September 19, 2019 | 52° F

Local Hack Day expands reach to schools with live streaming

Photo by Marielle Sumergido |

Students stay glued to their computer screens for 24 hours as they participate in HackRU, a Rutgers hackathon that serves as a meeting ground for many programmers and developers nationwide.

Hackathons have established themselves as a vital component of the growing computer science community at Rutgers. HackRU, the biannual 24-hour hackathon, is the core event of the semester for computer science majors and acts as a meeting ground for student programmers and developers nationwide.

It makes sense that the next step is to use the community’s love and knowledge of technology to expand that community, right?

Enter Local Hack Day.

LHD will take place on Dec. 6 and takes a unique approach on hackathons. Major League Hacking, the organization running the event, will be holding a livestream that all 34 schools participating in LDH can watch.

Shy Ruparel, a University of Cincinnati alumnus who majored in computer science, is coordinating the event. Ruparel works for MLH and has been working on LHD for several months now.

“We expect 2,300 students to be in attendance across all 34 venues,” he said. “We’re networking everyone together with a livestream.”

This has been done before, Ruparel said, who cited a Red Bull event where they provide hardware for events and use livestreams to let outsiders tune into the action.

“Others have done this, but this stream is exclusively for the participants, not for other people to watch,” he said.

The livestream will have various workshops for hackers looking to learn about different programming methods and various application programming interfaces and developer tools.

It’s not unusual for hackathons to hold workshops, but an online livestream that simultaneously streams workshops to 34 different schools? That’s pretty much unique to this event in the collegiate level, Ruparel said.

Ruparel said these workshops will be run out of MLH’s New York City-based headquarters by “the people who know what’s up,” like himself and the University’s own Sam Agnew, one of the leading organizers of HackRU.

“Rutgers is kind of like an example to follow, because we have a kick-a-- community and a big hackathon already,” said Agnew, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Agnew is one of several experienced hackathon attendees who will help run the online workshops.

Leadership from established schools like Rutgers and community leaders like Agnew is particularly important. About half the schools participating in LHD have never held a hackathon before, Ruparel said. 

“Some schools like Vanderbilt or University of Wisconsin-Madison have never had a hackathon before,” he said. “About a third of the venues are actually high schools.”

Ruparel also talked about how hackathons got him involved in the very scene he is now helping to publicize.

“I met Russ Frank and Sam Agnew and all these guys at hackathons like HackMIT and HackRU,” Ruparel said. “[I] started going to hackathons all the time. I had a phenomenal experience at HackRU.”

Interestingly enough, Ruparel said the growing size of hackathons could be as much a setback as it is a blessing. Penn Apps, the hackathon at Penn State, actually had to turn away several prospective attendees due to lack of space.

Transportation isn’t the problem because buses are a problem that can disappear with sponsor money, he said. 

Ruparel said the real difficulty lies with ensuring quality mentorship and workshops and preserving the small local feeling present at most hackathons.

Taking advantage of technology in this way helps keep the personal aspect of the hackathon experience intact while simultaneously expanding their scope.

Holding workshops over a single livestream displayed to dozens of hackathons at once solves two problems: making the physical size of venues not as problematic and ensuring quality by eliminating the need for specific workshops to be held where a hackathon is physically taking place.

“We want to cross-pollinate the culture,” Ruparel said. “We’re at a point where getting bigger is almost as big a problem as how we actually do it.”

Ruparel said there are “boxes of swag” to be distributed at each LHD venue. What exactly that swag is, Ruparel wouldn’t say — all he’d say is that “it’ll definitely keep you warm through the winter” and that it’s one-size-fits-all.

Running a hackathon in a hybrid-style event like this is a first for MLH, but Ruparel was confident and optimistic.

“We want to make everyone feel like they participated in a way that’s meaningful and impactful,” he said.

Check out Local Hack Day at Rutgers by signing up for the event on Eventbrite, which will take place Saturday, Dec. 6 in room 114 in the Hill Center on Busch campus.

Tyler Gold

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