By Raymond Page
The immutable buzzing of computerized cooling fans, overloaded and operating at maximum capacity, amplified throughout the Innovative Technologies Center as the third annual 2016 BU Hackathon commenced.
But what is a hackathon? Well, let’s begin by stating what it’s not. There is a natural stigma associated with the word hack. Popular culture, i.e., movies, television shows and the like, impart upon viewers a negative connotation, attributing hacking to its most commonly considered perception of criminal behavior with nefarious intent. Suffice it to say, the mere mention of hacking is often conceptualized as malicious and immoral.
Think about it….
In the movie Inception, Leonardo Dicaprio infiltrates the human psyche, forcefully entering his victim’s subconscious, bypassing a systematic break down of safeguarded barriers by extracting information from unwilling participants.
Then there’s, Live Free or Die Hard. The U.S. national infrastructure is under attack. Wiping out traffic lights, power grids, utilities, critical financial data and more, the Department of Homeland Security is breached, communications are severed, and as to be expected, panic invariably ensues.
But a real hackathon is far less likely to require the assistance of Bruce Willis as he fights against incredible odds to save the day.
“There’s two connotations to the word hack,” said event organizer, Christopher Beard. “One is the 1980’s hacker movies perception and then there is hacking where you take things you know, have all this technology at your disposal that you mash up and piece together to get something cool out of it.”
BU Hackathon was the latter.
“We’re about promoting creativity centered around technology,” says Beard. “However that manifests with each person, we’re totally behind it.”
The Hackathon was brimming with bright young minds, enthusiastic and driven. Imagine Revenge of the Nerds, extrapolate the cast, and finally add some tacos, sleeping bags and seminars and…
POOF! It’s the BU Hackathon.
Founded by ’14 BU graduate, Daniel O’Connor, former computer science major, Hack BU celebrates its third solid year.
“Dan O’Connor is a little bit of a legend,” says Jack Fischer, co-organizer of this year’s event. “Dan was able to pull off an amazing amount in only half of a semester. We’ve been trying to live up to him and go even further in the future,” he says.
Spectator, Steve Weiner, School of Management graduate is currently a Senior Associate at PWC, which is one of several BU Hackathon sponsors.
“I just came to watch,” says Weiner. “This is a great opportunity to meet like-minded and creative folks. It’s also a fantastic networking opportunity,” he says, noting that universities from New York State and beyond were in attendance, including Stony Brook, Albany, NYU, Syracuse, and possibly even Harvard.
“I saw a Harvard sweatshirt as we walked up in that room before,” says Weiner. But had BU summoned the interest of a student from one of the world’s most prestigious institutions?
Maybe…Cornell was there.
People from all over the nation sign up for this event,” says Beard, who wouldn’t be surprised if Harvard threw their proverbial hat into the ring. But logistically it doesn’t always make sense for out-of- staters, says Beard, as finances are often a determining factor, burdensome for individuals to incur or for BU to reimburse.
However, there were three charter buses providing transportation for neighboring schools. One bus even traveled all the way to Rutgers in New Brunswick. Unfortunately, while reasonable travel expenditures were reimbursed by the university, plane tickets from out of state competitors would undoubtedly exceed financial limitations, says Beard.
But none of this would be possible if not for the undying commitment of students like, Fischer, Beard and O’Connor to name a few. Between faculty leniencies with respect to assignment extensions, over 10 professional sponsors and Major League Hacking (MLH), which provided a variety of technological tools to be utilized, the juice had proven to be well worth the squeeze.
“The MLH is awesome,” says Beard. They have so much hardware. For example you can get oculus rifts,” which is a head mounted display, equipped with headphones and goggles to simulate virtual reality.
“Virtual reality is important,” says Fischer. “Let’s say you’re an undergraduate engineering student. You’re probably not going to have the tools needed to assemble a jet engine. But in virtual reality, you can do it.”
The first year winners utilized virtual reality to work on mechanical systems, lending to the argument that this example is not so far-fetched.
But why so many eager supporters for an event that is entirely student run and operated?
“Well,” says Fischer. “Recruiters and software companies are always looking to network with students and often seek young developers. Sponsoring a hackathon is a great way to do that.”
“They often give students unlimited access to their platforms for the duration of the event, let them go wild and see what they can do with it,” Fischer adds.
This years winners constructed what they refer to as a rap-generating machine, named “Codiggity.”
“The user enters in a word, which starts the rhyming sequence and an automated voice raps the lyrics in synch with the music,” according to information provided on devpost.com.
Being a beginner team, the group entered the competition with minimal expectation. They shared a passion for music and hoped to inspire some laughs at best, but as fate would have it, they exceeded their expectations, walking away with a solid win.
“It was a windows app that takes a noun and produces rap lyrics off of it,” says Fischer.
“It was quite impressive.”
For additional information, including upcoming hackathons taking place in various states, former winners, projects past and present and much more, visit: http://devpost.com/software
For BU Hackathon related inquiries visit- http://2016s.hackbu.org