During the weekend of Sept. 20, Virginia Tech will be sending 110 students to the largest annual Hackathon in the country, MHacks.
But this level of representation is a shocking reversal from the eight students who were signed up to go as recently as last Wednesday. Due to a conflict in transportation to the event, Ben Johnston and Jouella Fabe had the challenge of recruiting at least 40 more students so that Tech students could be provided transportation to the event.
Last Wednesday night, Johnston and Fabe, a junior and senior computer science major respectively, launched a campaign that skyrocketed their list of registered attendees from eight to 28 students in just four hours. On Sept. 9, they reached the maximum capacity of 110 students and are now wait-listing interested students. These numbers mean that Tech has gone from one of the least represented universities to one of the most represented at MHacks.
“The MHacks organizer was very impressed by our ability to get students to come, and I was very impressed by our Hokies and their school spirit,” Fabe said.
MHacks is a hackathon hosted at the University of Michigan by their computer science department and sponsored by a plethora of major technology companies such as Facebook, GitHub and Microsoft.
“Any major Fortune 500 company that you can think of will probably be there,” Johnston said.
Mhacks is also bringing in a bunch of new ‘toys’ and developments in the tech world for attending students to examine and play with, such as the Google Glass, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and even quadricopters.
The event, which spans over 36 hours, offers the opportunity for around 1,200 students to work alone or in small groups to come up with a project idea and proceed to design and develop it. The only restriction on the projects is that they have to be computer related.
“Otherwise, as long as it’s legal, it’s allowed,” said Johnston.
At the end of the weekend, the projects are presented to a panel of sponsoring companies and venture capitalists.
“Enthusiastic developers come to this event and come up with an idea that they really want to do and really just make it happen,” Fabe said. “There is no major or field restriction for participation at MHacks — anyone interested in technology and development is welcome to attend.”
The students behind the most outstanding projects can be rewarded up to $30,000 in prize money, an on-site interview with one of the sponsoring technology firms or even venture capital to continue to work on and implement their project.
According to Johnston and Fabe, Tech has been underrepresented at past Hackathons and in employment in Silicon Valley. As far as they know, the largest group Tech has ever sent to a Hackathon has been under 20 people. This is Tech’s opportunity to spread a positive image and show that there are many students with potential in the Blacksburg area.
“It seems like our name isn’t really out there when it comes to the Computer Science field,” Johnston said. “They’re calling Tech the number one underdog story of MHacks, and they just want us to come in and take it by storm because no one will expect it.”
Many of the venture capital companies that attend MHacks never visit Tech, meaning that this might be the attending Hokies’ sole opportunity to make a resounding impression.
“If a Tech student comes up with an idea that a venture capitalist finds interesting, there is a very good chance they will be funded,” Johnston said.
Johnston and Fabe have high hopes for MHacks 2013 and the future. Fabe personally thinks that a good showing could put Tech on the map in the hackathon and technology worlds, and that this event could be the catalyst for future growth in the computer science field in the Blacksburg area.
Johnston and Fabe formed a club called Tech Hackers to follow their successful campaign in garnering interest and attendees for MHacks. They plan to host a few small events, such as mini hackathons or projects in the future that will keep students and Tech interested and excited after MHacks is over.