Technology enthusiasts young and old gathered over the weekend to take part in southern Illinois’ first ever hackathon.
The HackSI Hackathon was held Saturday at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. A group of nearly 100 attended to create unique technology in a 12-hour timeframe.
Entrants in the hackathon spanned all ages, with the youngest at around nine years old and the oldest in his 60s.
Two of the three winners were high school students, including the first-place winner Alex Bryant, a sophomore at Murphysboro High School. Bryant won for making a Bluetooth-to-light-emitting diode text-based device. He said he was surprised he won and was eager to attend more hackathons in the future.
“I’m definitely doing this again,” he said. “It’s very fun and cool meeting people and just getting to hang out and write code.”
Luke Russell, a junior at Murphysboro High School, built a car that was guided by sonar. The closer a person got to the car, the faster it would move away. He said being in an environment of like-minded individuals was inspiring.
“Seeing all these people do something I love is awesome,” he said. “If they do this again, I’m doing it again.”
Bonnie Kucharski, director of managed services at Liaison Technologies, helped organize and judge the event. She said the number of younger attendees stood out to her and showed a lot of promise for the future.
“We have a whole group of high school students here,” she said. “I was talking with one of them and he said before he came here today, he didn’t know anything about what he was developing. He came here with a computer and a book and developed something. That’s just cool.”
Steve Carrington, the chief information officer for Murphysboro school district, said he hoped events like the hackathon will entice students to go into fields of work dealing with technology.
“As far as my school, what we’re trying to do is infuse a lot more technology and electronics options for the students to be able to take in the curriculum,” he said. “An event like this where kids can see other kids and get some recognition, it helps bolster those kids and keep them moving in the right direction.”
High school students were not the only entrants at the hackathon. People ranging from college students to professional programmers – and even a diesel mechanic – showed off their programming abilities as well.
Scott Palmer and Eric Colvin, both 2010 SIU graduates, work as data mapping analysts and said
they enjoyed the freedom. They created a side- scroll video game titled Space Meatballs. They said the open atmosphere was a bit daunting at first because they did not know what they were going to create, but once they figured it out, they had a lot of fun.
Gi Vania, the deputy director of research computing for SIU, said events like the HackSI hackathon could provide the university with a boost in prestige.
“When people see on the news what’s going on at SIU, (they ask) are those guys hillbillies or are they hacking up the latest storm for the future?” he said. “These kids are building the future right now. You come to SIU and you’re going to find some really sharp kids.”
Vania said events like the hackathon were
important for education since they provide a high amount of entertainment while teaching something of value.
“Kids are spending a billion hours playing Call of Duty. A billion hours,” he said. “That’s not a small number. When you think of education, you are going to have to gameify it. … It’s really important that what kids feel when they play a video game – a sense of being creative, a sense of wonder – education needs to become more like that. That’s what’s going to carry education forward.”
Reid Burke, a software engineer at Yahoo and former Carbondale resident, was one of the judges at this year’s event and said he was pleasantly surprised by the success of the event.
“It’s a great turnout,” Reid Burke said. “There’s a lot of people who are at their first event. I’m very
pleased to see this many people show up for the first southern Illinois hackathon.”
Entrants and organizers of the event said they hope to expand the hackathon to a full 24- or 36- hour timeframe, which is typical of most events. Dav Glass, a software architect from Yahoo and one of the coordinators of the event, said he wants to do another hackathon as early as spring.
The HackSI Hackathon was sponsored by SIU, Liaison, Splattered Ink, Travis CI, Custom Computer Solutions, Github, and Yahoo Developer Network. For more information about future events, visit www.hacksi.me.
Seth Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 563-3311 ext.269