HackDartmouth hosts over 200 competitors

by Emma Demers | 9/27/16 12:57am

hack_dartmouth_courtesy

Students at HackDartmouth build a product in 24 hours of coding.

Source: The Dartmouth

At this year’s HackDartmouth, sleep was optional.

Over 200 students participated last weekend in the third iteration of Dartmouth’s 24-hour hackathon, a competition in which students compete to build a product using a variety of programming skills. Such a task may seem daunting, but no previous “hacking” skill is needed.

“We definitely encourage beginners,” said HackDartmouth co-director Helen He ’18. “We offer workshops on various topics and beginners trying to build a website can learn and come up with something by the end of the hackathon.”

This is certainly true for Alejandro Cuan-Martinez ’20, who is currently enrolled in “Introduction to Computer Science” and whose prior knowledge consisted only of self-taught JavaScript.

“It’s more about getting hands-on experience,” Cuan-Martinez said. “You get to figure things out yourself and apply a workshop to your own project.”

Cuan-Martinez and three other members of the Class of 2020 — Lessley Hernandez, Saeeda Ullah and Jasmine Mai — entered HackDartmouth as a team, but said they were more focused on the learning aspect than on winning a prize. In the past, competition judges have awarded video gaming consoles and audio equipment to the winning teams.

For more experienced coders, HackDartmouth provides an opportunity to apply their knowledge.

“Our CS department has made a lot of strides in giving people practical skills,” said HackDartmouth co-director Rob Sayegh ’18. “The Hackathon is a way to promote those skills and allow students to embrace technical expertise.”

More and more students are vying for expertise in computer science, as evidenced by the department’s considerable rise in course enrollment. At last count, 189 undergraduate students had declared computer science as their major. According to computer science professor Tom Cormen, a former HackDartmouth judge, there has been an influx of students into the introductory courses.

“We used to offer CS 1 in the fall and spring,” Cormen said. “Now, we’re offering it fall, winter and spring, and capping it at 180 or 190.”

The increased interest in computer science reflects a growing need for tech-savvy workers in an increasingly web-based world. Sayegh said that many aspiring tech workers are drawn to HackDartmouth for a chance to meet a variety of employers, who help sponsor the competition.

“Sponsors are the big draw for a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of our sponsors are here advertising their internships.”

Those sponsors include Google, Wayfair and Appian, companies which are all looking to hire students from Dartmouth.

Recently, though, these companies have also started searching for a new kind of employee. Lorie Loeb , an associate professor of computer science and two-time HackDartmouth judge, touts the benefits of balancing technology with creativity.

“The artists who can code and the coders who can do design are the people that employers are looking for,” Loeb said. “Don’t let terms and boundaries and disciplines, like ‘I’m an English major,’ close you off from also taking courses that press you. That’s what a liberal arts education is about.”

Following this logic, Loeb said she encourages students to become adept at several different skills.

“The future of computer science is intersected with every discipline on campus,” she said. “There’s room for technology in all of those disciplines and there’s room for all of those disciplines in technology.”

The College held its first-ever hackathon in the spring of 2015, when it received a total of 575 applications. This year, HackDartmouth received over 900 applications, including from students outside the United States. All university students — both at the undergraduate and graduate levels — could apply. All Dartmouth students were automatically accepted.

HackDartmouth is also partnered with the Thayer School of Engineering, the Dartmouth Digital Arts Leadership Innovation Lab and Major League Hacking.