July 20, 2019 | 78° F

University organizations, students prep for ‘HackRU’

Photo by Courtesy of HackRU.org |

Last year’s ‘HackRU’ hosted more than 200 students in the Livingston Student Center. This year, nearly 400 developers will compete in the hackathon Oct. 12.

The fifth annual Rutgers hackathon will consist of student computer programmers working without sleep or pause for a full 24 hours while they collaborate on creating new applications.

The Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists are expected to gather in the Douglass Student Center for “HackRU” on Oct. 12 and Oct. 13, which will cap off a nearly six-week hackathon season including schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania.

Student-run hackathons have their very own organization, called Major League Hacking, to track competition among the various universities.

Registration for this semester’s “HackRU” has increased greatly, said Sam Agnew, the event’s director.

“Major League Hacking has accelerated the process of building a tech community with other schools,” said Agnew, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “I think students now feel more motivated to go to hackathons to [represent] their colors.”

But “HackRU” has also built a fantastic reputation, said Billy Lynch, president of USACS.

Students think the sense of community the organization builds makes the event particularly welcoming.

“We’ve had a lot of students tell us that one of the things they love specifically about ‘HackRU’ is that we try to keep all the developers and mentors in the same room throughout the competition, unlike other hackathons which are spread out across different floors and buildings,” said Lynch, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Organizing a smooth and seamless event is not as easy as it looks, said Kaushal Parikh, the director of public outreach for HackRU. They started planning early during the summer, coordinating rooms and securing sponsors.

But despite more than double the sponsorship funding of last semester, much of the process remains burdensome, Agnew said.

“Rutgers is a giant sea of red tape,” Agnew said. “Except for a few of the faculty members in various departments, it’s really difficult to orchestrate HackRU.”

Agnew said the HackRU coordinators sought SodaStream, an at-home soda maker, as a sponsor for the event. The hackathon community at UPenn was grateful to the company for supplying free drinks at their hackathon for 48 straight hours.

“But we couldn’t use them because they’re not a Pepsi company, which all drinks vendors at the University must be,” Agnew said.

Once the club secures a sponsor, it can take from two weeks to two months to actually get the money into their account, Lynch said.

“I understand that they do it for tax reasons, but we’ve had companies give us money over a month ago, and we haven’t seen a penny of it — I just think there has to be a better way to handle this,” Lynch said.

HackRU has nevertheless emerged with one-tenth the budget of student-run competitions like “PennApps” at UPenn or “MHacks” at Michigan, which each raise as much as $200,000, said Parikh, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

In just a few years HackRU has grown from a few developers coding in the Hill Center on Busch campus to a much larger venue in which nearly 400 developers compete, said Parikh.

“It remains to be seen whether we’ll grow into a multi-thousand person hackathon like ‘MHacks,’ which relies on an expo-style science fair to judge contestants’ projects instead of letting each team demo in front of everyone,” Parikh said.

Lynch said Rutgers played a part in supporting “HackRU” — lending a space in the student center for the large event.

“That’s definitely something good to say about the University,” he said.

By Nis Frome

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