Imagine for a moment a room full of eager college students, who have not bathed, slept or even seen sunlight for the past 36 hours. No, this isn’t the cram session you usually do with your friends, 2 days before a test worth 40% of your grade, this is a Hackathon. Put frankly a Hackathon is a collection of ambitious Computer Scientists and Engineers who come together at a specified location (usually a University) and work for 24-36 hours to come up with whatever they can think of. Of course to the technologically challenged, whose knowledge of computers goes as far as typing in Facebook in the address bar, and whose idea of “hacking” involves Keanu Reeves dodging a multitude of bullets in slow motion, a Hackathon may seem like a completely alien concept. I mean you don’t see Chemistry Majors from around the country coming together to do lab experiments. In many ways a Hackthon is a culmination of the current passion and innovation in the technological world. The great thing about a Hackathon is that you don’t have to do anything, there is no pressure to make something, and if you do choose to make something you can make anything that comes to mind. Want to make a website that lets Binghamton University students share helpful study tips or the best places to study in the Bartle Library(it’s on the third floor)? Do it. Do you want to make an app that tracks how long you have ran for the day? Go ahead. As long as you have the skills and ideas you can make it. With that being said, a huge barrier for people who are interested in computer science is the actual programming languages itself. An average person looking at a sample of *Java code, might as well be trying to read hieroglyphics. While upon first glance it look complex, (and to be fair some languages are hard to understand), there are many simpler languages that ease new users into the experience such as HTML5, Python and Basic. In today’s increasingly technology dependent society it almost seems unrealistic to completely ignore programming. Sure even if you don’t care who made your iPhone, or who keeps the track of the websites you go on everyday, making your own personal website is strongly recommend by most employers and even required by some.
Back on the subject of Hackathons, I recently had the chance to experience my first one around the first week of April. Honestly, I was a bit reluctant to go, the prospect of being trapped in a university for a weekend with hundreds of other un-showered students sounded horrible. However, as I arrived I was greeted to a huge stadium filled with sponsors, such as Microsoft and *Oculus Rift, tons of food and most importantly a group of eager peers ready to program. As the Hackathon progressed I met a lot of new people who shared the same interests as me and gave me tips whenever I asked for them. By the end of the competition I had met a handful of new people and seen the things that I could only dream would be created. Among the projects that were on display, the standouts included a virtual reality game that puts you in the shoes of Iron Man, a speech to text software that will recognize and type out any math equation you dictate to it and finally a piano program that generates notes and chords to synchronize with the melody of the note you just played. Although not as impressive on paper as in person, these creations offer a glimpse into the future of consumer products. In the end that’s really what computer science is about, taking something in life of the is difficult or tedious and making it easier and more enjoyable.
What to take away from this is that a Hackathon, is not a competition, rather it is a congregation of like-minded individuals who come together to create the technology of the future. Hackathons are an opportunity for experienced programmers to show off ideas, and for novice programmers to build community(and for all the rest of the people an opportunity to get free stuff from the sponsors.). There really is not a better time to be a computer science student than in 2014, and I hope that many more people have the opportunity to experience it.
*Java- A programming language
*Oculus Rift- A virtual reality headset that was recently bought by Facebook for 2 Billion dollars.