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Dan O'Connor, a computer science major, center, Chris Beard, left, and Jack Fischer lead the first HackBU Hackathon in Academic Building A on April 26.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Students stay up late, innovate at HackBU Hackathon
April 30, 2014Tweet
A smartwatch app that provides real-time information on Off Campus College Transport. A combination of the Xbox Kinect and the Oculus Rift headset that lets users tinker with mechanical systems in virtual reality. These aren’t concepts dreamed up by business bigwigs or well-funded tech startups. They’re some of the many creative, out-of-the-box ideas developed by Binghamton University students at the first-ever HackBU Hackathon on April 25.
“The goal is to build something cool and have fun,” said Daniel O’Connor ‘14, computer science major and event organizer.
More than 250 students converged on Academic A for the event which had teams of up to four racking their brains and pooling their talents to develop the best program (e.g. website, iPhone app) or hardware in under 24 hours. Some students used the time to start new projects; others pursued existing ideas. O’Connor didn’t care what students worked on, as long as they were engaged.
“We just want people to build stuff,”O’Connor said. “At the end, to generally just be interested in what they’re learning.”
Tyler Constance ‘14, a computer engineering major, had never participated in a hackathon before and wasn’t sure what he would work on before going in, but that only made the experience more thrilling.
“I think not knowing is exhilarating,” he said.
Not only was the Hackathon fun and a way to “create something meaningful and useful,” said Constance, it was a career-building opportunity.
“A lot of employers, especially in technical fields, don’t care too much about schooling or anything like that, or even experience,” said Constance. “A lot of it’s just what you’re capable of, what you can build and what you’ve built before.”
According to O’Connor, hackathons are quickly replacing career fairs for computer science majors, with companies investing money in them to recruit the brightest students. The HackBU Hackathon was an attempt to create what O’Connor refers to as a “maker mentality” at Binghamton University and give students an opportunity to add to their portfolios.
“I think it’s something that Binghamton needs,” O’Connor said. “Academically, we’re a really strong school, and hackathons are a way to encourage students to work on and have people building things.
O’Connor was inspired to start the hackathon after attending three others and being taken aback by the intelligence and innovation on display.
“It’s neat being in a place where people are way smarter than you,” said O’Connor. “You kind of walk around in awe, and you realize you’ll never be as smart as them. I think it’s cool being in the venue and seeing tons of smart people working on tons of cool things. A lot of those people are going to be the future CEOs.”
For Eileen Head, undergraduate director of the computer science department, the hackathon is an invaluable experience for students.
“It gives the students an opportunity, outside of class without any adults watching them, to work in teams to solve a problem,” said Head. “I think that’s really incredible.”
Students at Binghamton will soon have more opportunities to solve problems with technology. Their first hackathon a success, O’Connor and the other technophiles of HackBU plan on hosting another event in the fall.
“Looking around a packed Lecture Hall 2 at the opening kickoff and seeing over 250 students was incredible,” said O’Connor. “It validated months of hard work and makes us excited about the future of computer science and engineering at Binghamton University.”