Hackathon to harness talented programmers

By Seth Richardson

Hacking, a term usually used with disdain, is getting a new meaning in southern Illinois.

The HackSI Hackathon will take place Nov. 2, at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center in an attempt to get people in the area excited about creating technology-based projects.

The name hackathon might not mean what some think it means, said Dav Glass of Marion, a software architect at Yahoo and one of the coordinators of the event.


“The technical definition of a hack is make something do something it’s not supposed to do,” he said. “What a hackathon is – this one is scheduled for 12 hours – basically these engineers and these geeks show up and they have 12 hours to come up with an idea and then build it and show it off to their peers.”

Hackathons first became popular in the Silicon Valley area and companies like Google, Yahoo, Tumblr, Facebok and Twitter have held several per year in an attempt to recruit new talent and ideas. Past projects Glass has seen at similar events include Android apps, new social media platforms and robotics among a variety of others.

Glass said the hackathon removes the restrictions put in place by technology companies when developing software and hardware.

“We look at that as red tape,” he said. “What a hackathon does is remove that red tape, there’s no rules. You can build whatever your mind comes up with. That usually leads to really cool innovations because these guys come up with something no one has ever seen before.”

Darryl Jones, owner of Splattered Ink in Murphysboro and hackathon coordinator, said the openness of the event is what is so attractive about it.

“You don’t have restrictions that come from a boss or a client or your own daily to-do list,” Jones said. “If you want to figure out how to roll your windows up in your car, go for it. If you want to use hand gestures to control a remote control helicopter, go for it. If you want to create a website or app or anything like that, go for it. It’s about that freedom to create.”

The event begins at 10 a.m. where entrants will receive guidance from professionals in the field. The entrants then split into their own groups and begin developing their products. At 10 p.m. the judges will look at the final products and determine their favorite.


However, the creation process is only one portion of the event. Jones said networking was another main goal of the hackathon.

“Ultimately, networking is one of the biggest advantages of an event like this,” Jones said. “A lot of the companies that sponsor an event like this are interested in that. They want to see who’s here and they want to get to know them and network.”

Kyle Harfst, executive director of the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, where the hackathon is taking place, said there is the possibility of tech companies investing or forming in the area out of events like this.

“There is also an altruistic nature of this,” Harfst said. “Doing something for the betterment of the public, I think, would be a more broad way of explaining this. What’s something that we can do good as professionals for the region or for the state or whoever. Is there something we can do in 12 hours that will better the public?”

Harfst, Jones and Glass also said the event could bring more jobs to the southern Illinois area. Jeremy Packer, a senior from Metropolis studying computer science and owner of Life at Southern, said the hackathon could lead to student economic development.

“I could see an influx of more student-based startups of students coming up with ideas at these events and running with it,” he said. “You never know if you have the next big idea until you have it.”

Registration for the HackSI Hackathon begins at 9:30 a.m. For more information about the event, visit www.hacksi.me.