Most people think of “hacking” as a computer security issue. But, to the members of the Rensselaer student hackathon organization, dubbed “HackRPI,” it simply means using technology to develop or create something that’s never been used before, which for students is part of the excitement and challenge. The students hosted the third annual 24-hour “hackathon” event on campus Nov. 12-13.
This year, more than 500 students from over 225 colleges and universities, along with students from several high schools, from the Northeast and across the country participated in the hackathon. In addition to Rensselaer, some participating schools included Rochester Institute of Technology, SUNY Binghamton, Fordham University, University of Waterloo, University at Albany, Rutgers, UMass Amherst, Purdue University, New York University, Northeastern University, Stony Brook University, University of Maryland, and Cornell.
During the two-day event, the Darrin Communications Center served as the central hub—and temporary home—for the avid student hackers focused on creating projects in areas of technology that address hardware, web, data, mobile, video game and virtual reality, and the humanitarian fields, among others.
“We are driven by a passion for creating an environment where students can learn from each other and use their creativity and ingenuity to create a project that they are proud of,” said Matt Poegel ’17, who is majoring in computer science and math and served as one of co-directors for this year’s event. “All of the organizers have been to hackathons at other schools and want to bring that community to RPI. Our data shows that more than 80 percent of students want to come to HackRPI to learn new technologies, so that has been our primary focus in organizing HackRPI 2016.”
We are driven by a passion for creating an environment where students can learn from each other and use their creativity and ingenuity to create a project that they are proud of.” — Matt Poegel ’17
In addition to Poegel, Andrew Batbouta ’17, who is in the co-terminal program and now pursuing his master’s degree in computer science, served as co-director, and Aaron Perl ’18, also a computer science major, was part of the organizing team.
HackRPI is one of 200 similar events held throughout North America and Europe that belong to a hackathon league called Major League Hacking, supported by Dell and Windows. Based on their performance, students earn points to help their schools rise to the top of the Major League Hacking fall semester standings. As the official student hackathon league supporting more than 200 events in North America and Europe every semester, Major League Hacking empowers more than 65,000 students in its hackathon network, including those at Rensselaer.
Due to the timing involved in creating quick projects over an allotted period, hackathons are also known for attracting the attention of major technology companies that may often provide career opportunities, mentorship, food, and cash prizes. Representatives from Major League Hacking and several corporate sponsors, including Apprenda, Bloomberg, Dell, Pitney Bowes, IBM, Illium VR, Mitre, Trip Advisor, and Viacom, and many more supported the event.
The event was founded in 2014 by student co-directors Sebastian Sarbora ’16, a dual major in computer science and electrical engineering, and Jazmine Olinger ’16, a dual major in computer science and mathematics who says that she became interested in programming in ninth grade, along with Jacob Martin ’16, and Robert Rouhani ’16. Some of the founders went on to develop Ilium VR, a local startup company focused on creating advanced rifle controllers for virtual reality games and simulations.
“Sponsoring HackRPI is an investment in the future of computer science,” said Sarbora. “Hackathons allow students to explore new technologies and collaborate with one another in a fun, relaxed environment. They also offer a more engaging way for students to learn about software development than traditional schoolwork. It’s been a great learning experience for me to have been involved in launching the event here at RPI.”