Rather than sleeping in during the snowy weekend, many Binghamton University students spent their free time coding for 24 hours straight, surrounded by industry recruiters.
On Saturday morning, BU hosted the seventh-annual Hackathon in the Innovative Technologies Complex (ITC). The 24-hour event involved a total of 350 students working to make their coding projects a reality.
BU’s Hackathon events are organized by HackBU, a Student Association-chartered club that aims to teach students about coding. The Hackathon involves a congregation of coders that form teams with the goal of creating the best type of program based on a preset theme within a set time period, according to HackBU’s website. Participants can also gain valuable networking opportunities by interacting with the various sponsors present.
Colin Fiutak, president of HackBU and a senior double-majoring in computer science and history, described this year’s Hackathon as BU’s biggest yet.
“There are some sponsors that we didn’t have before,” Fiutak said. “JPMorgan Chase [& Co.] is new and Capital One is new as a sponsor. We also raised $10,000 more this year. Our previous record for sponsorship money raised was $35,000 in 2017. This year we’ve reached $45,000.”
The uptick in sponsor attention came with a new forward-thinking theme, according to Fiutak.
“This year’s theme is ‘Hack Tomorrow,’” Fiutak said. “It’s a lot of emphasis for coding solutions to problems of the future. So there’s a category for ‘Best Clean Energy Hack,’ there’s a ‘Best Civic Engagement Hack,’ there’s a ‘Best Building a Better Future Hack.’ Basically we’re just trying to incentivize people to use their coding skills for something that’s actually meaningful to society rather than some meme generator or something.”
As the event began, John Fish, an IT manager representing The Raymond Corporation as one of the Hackathon sponsors, said he was enthusiastic about seeing what participating students could create.
“It’s been very interesting so far, it was nice to see such a good turnout even though the weather was a bit questionable yesterday,” Fish said. “I want to see what everybody can come up with.”
Fish’s sentiments were shared by other new sponsors at the event, though for different reasons. JPMorgan Chase & Co. representative Michael Kennedy, ‘14, described sponsoring BU’s Hackathon as a long-desired goal.
“Three out of the four of [the JPMorgan Chase & Co. representatives] are actually [BU] alumni,” Kennedy said. “The three of us here and a lot of the alumni that we’ve talked to in the New York [metropolitan] area have a sense of camaraderie with [BU]. We want to give back and that’s really why we’re here. To be part of the University and help contribute to what the students are doing here at the Hackathon.”
Kennedy praised the HackBU organizers for their efforts in running the event.
“The HackBU club has done a tremendous job so far, we can tell, in terms of making sure everything is running seamlessly,” Kennedy said. “We’re sponsoring the ‘[Best] Civic Engagement Hack,’ so we’re really excited to see what projects we can get out of that.”
The representatives of JPMorgan Chase & Co. weren’t the only BU alumni present at the event. Austin Ward, ‘18, a Capital One representative, described his successful efforts to bring Capital One to BU’s Hackathon for the first time.
“I understand how great the [BU] community is and I want to give back to that,” Ward said. “Capital One has a very strong recruitment with many schools, and [BU] was not on that list. I told myself my job was to get [BU] on that list. I’ve been working really hard over the last year and a half to make this happen and I could not have done it without the wonderful people at HackBU.”
According to Ward, BU students are beginning to see stronger recruitment from companies like Capital One. He said he hopes Capital One’s participation in the Hackathon will be the beginning of a long-term trend of partnership.
“Over the past two years, we’ve doubled the amount of people we’ve hired [from BU],” Ward said. “I’m hoping the trend will continue, that we’ll continue to recruit from [BU] and that our presence here will grow larger and so will the presence of [BU] alumni within Capital One.”
Fiutak said investing time and effort to expand the Hackathon is a personal endeavor for him, and he hopes the event’s growth will continue in the years to come.
“For me personally, [HackBU 2018] was the first moment in my computer science career where I was like, ‘Huh, I can actually do something,’” Fiutak said. “I’m just trying to recreate that for as many people as I can.”