Rutgers students build new programs at 10th annual HackRU
In one corner of the room, stacks of blue cups tower over a crowd. In another, a crowd of students collect green Android plushies and YouTube stickers. Between them, there are rows of eager programmers and computers working together to develop a program.
The College Avenue Student Center was home to HackRU and its 500 participants over the weekend. It was the 10th semiannual hackathon hosted at Rutgers, organized in partnership with Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists (USACS) and Major League Hacking.
The 24-hour event commenced with an opening ceremony and ended on Sunday with project demonstrations and prize distribution.
Akshay Malavade, a School of Engineering first-year student, only recently began programming, and experienced HackRU for the first time this year.
"So it never felt real," Malavade said. "It’s so interesting to see so many people actually applying coding to every-day uses.”
Because attendees are not required to be a computer science major or have any prior knowledge with technology, HackRU attracts a wide variety of participants, from business to mechanical engineering majors, to high school students and alumnae.
David Fu, a Rutgers Class of 2015 alumnus, returns regularly to campus to mentor new generations of hackers. He was a part of USACS throughout his undergraduate years and helped run HackRU for four consecutive years.
“Participants used to be mostly undergrads, but in recent years, more high school students began showing interest," Fu said. "Sponsors, mentors are also here. Come here with an idea, form a team and you learn as you go. There are always workshops for people new to technology."
Rows of sponsor desks were set up with representatives from companies including Capital One and Google. These professionals handed out free items to participants, as well as helped new hackers with their projects. Speakers provided insight into their careers and the industry during talks throughout the weekend.
Kaitlin Poskaitis, a Rutgers alumna and site reliability engineer with Google, took part in HackRU while she was a student. She was back on campus to provide help with technology, especially with Google's iCloud application program interface (API).
An API is a development tool that lets programmers understand the basic framework of a company's program, and can be used to ensure two different pieces of software are able to communicate with each other.
Because many current employees are Rutgers alumni, she said Google has sent representatives for years.
“We try to network with the students here, as they are some of the brightest and best minds. We want to meet them and tell them about our company,” Poskaitis said.
This marks the first year Capital One Financial Corporation was present at HackRU.
They sponsored a prize for users of their API, which they provide to the hackathon, called Nessi. This program is a mockup of the API used internally in the company, which is a platform on which students can practice. Their award is a $250 Amazon gift card for each team member of the winning project.
“We embrace the emerging members of the tech community and we’re here to mentor future technologists. We are here for recruiting purposes as well,” said Timothy Austen, front-end software engineer at Capital One.
Sponsors and their representatives accept resumes of hackathon participants for employment consideration.
Sehaj Singh, a Class of 2016 alumnus, has taken advantage of sponsor desks like this one, signing up for newsletters and getting in touch with recruiters.
“When you apply online, for instance, it’s not a direct route to getting in touch and very opaque. You see them every semester, fall and spring, so they recognize you,” Singh said.
As an organizer of the event, Joyce Van Drost, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said she cannot participate in the coding.
She plays a big role checking participants in, distributing snacks, organizing workshop events and organizing break activities like cup-stacking challenge and trivia, she said.
“We want to give more people the opportunity to be exposed to computer programming. At today’s event, travel reimbursement could not work for students coming from far, but for next spring, we will try to get busses for travelers,” Van Drost said.
Minna Kim is an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.