Binghamton University students piled into University of Michigan’s football stadium this weekend, offering a unique display of talent.
With over 1,000 students present from more than 100 colleges, the stadium hosted a 36-hour hackathon event that was one of the largest in the world, surpassing attendance at the annual hackathon hosted at the University of Pennsylvania earlier in September.
Though their name may be misleading, student “hackers” weren’t trying to hack anything but were enlisted to develop unique inventions through computer programming.
MHacks, which lasted from Friday evening until Sunday, gave hackers 36 hours to create an application programming interface and present their work in the hopes of winning one of several prizes.
A total of 19 BU students attended the event, including first-time attendee Alexander Terela, a sophomore majoring in computer science.
While some BU students formed groups to compete, Terela attended for experience.
“It was an eye-opener and was very unusual as well … in the sense that it was nothing like I’ve ever experience before,” Terela said. “We got to see all the demos of all of the projects … we got to see the projects develop throughout the weekend.”
Students competed in groups of four for over $30,000 in cash prizes.
The Binghamton contingent was organized by Daniel O’Connor, a senior majoring in computer science. He said that his goal was to build a hacker community here at BU.
According to Terela, first place went to a trashcan creation that has the capability to sort between recyclables and non-recyclables.
Dave Fontenot, a former University of Michigan student, facilitated MHacks’ humble beginnings a little under a year ago.
“We had just come back from a great last minute trip from PennApps,” Fontenot said, speaking on behalf of his three co-creators and past teammates. “It was great, and we were on fire and figured that Michigan should have something like it.”
Michigan saw its first hackathon in February 2013.
Fontenot explained that his involvement in this year’s hackathon was quite significant, leaving him with little time to code or even sleep. According to Fontenot, planning for the next MHacks is in the works for Jan. 17.
“It’s just the start of this wave of hackathons and MHacks is in the driver’s seat,” Fontenot said.
While Terela was not involved in a project this weekend, he does have a bigger and similar undertaking in mind.
“I’ve been talking with [a friend], and we would like to bring a hackathon to Binghamton,” Terela said. “We’re looking in the future to start something for the fall 2014 semester.”
Terela hopes to begin speaking with some higher-ups, from computer science professors to BU President Harvey Stenger.
“Our next step is to spread the word and get a good interest base of a lot of BU students and a lot of students in the surrounding areas,” Terela said.
Yuval Shafir, a sophomore majoring in computer science, attended and worked alongside other BU students.
“[We] worked on a web application to make calling volunteer fire departments a much more efficient process, called VFD alert,” Shafir said.
While Shafir’s group project was cut short due to the 36-hour limit, they plan to continue where they left off and finish their work before the semester ends.
Students like Shafir hopefully await the prospect of a hackathon at BU.
“I plan to be very involved in the process,” Shafir said. “A hackathon at Binghamton can help build [the school’s] already great reputation.”
Both Terela and Shafir stressed the fact that students from all fields of study are welcome and encouraged to attend hackathons.
“A lot of people seem to think that only elite hackers should go, but some of the people that learned the most and had the best time had no experience at all,” Shafir said.
Terela commented on the opportunities available to experienced and inexperienced hackers alike.
“You can come in there with any idea that you might have,” Terela said. “There are recruiters that will come and offer jobs and internships to people on the spot.”
Students in attendance from BU and Michigan alike remarked positively on their experience.
“I plan on going again … the whole time I felt like I was in a different world,” Sharif said. “It was tiring, but it was also one of the coolest experiences I have ever had.”