36 Hours of Hacking at YSU

By Justin Wier

Youngstown State University will host Hack YSU, the university’s first-ever hackathon, on the weekend of April 17 through 19.

The hackathon is a weekend long competition where teams of computer programmers have 36 hours to develop software projects. The top five projects will be chosen at the end of the weekend.

Joe Duncko, director of Hack YSU, said in this context, hacking doesn’t have the negative connotations one might associate with it.

“We like using the word hacking to mean something more like creating in an unconventional way, using unconventional means,” Duncko said. “You’re normally trying to do something really cool, really fast.”

Duncko said they still come across people who think they’re out to steal their credit card numbers.

“We face that problem almost on a daily basis, and we did, as an organization sit down and spend a good 20 minutes discussing whether or not we wanted to keep the hackathon name and actually call this Hack YSU,” Dunkco said.

The group kept the name because of the familiarity with the term among the hacking community.

“There are a lot of these that happen every semester — at this point, around 50 — and the community that’s built up around them was enough to justify it, with the name recognition with the other events,” Duncko said.

The event will have an opening ceremony followed by a team and idea building session for people that show up without an idea or a group before everyone settles in for 36 hours of intense creation.

“We want to make everyone that came feel included,” Duncko said.

Duncko said there will also be professional mentors to help people out if they get stuck. Twenty mentors have already applied.

“We’re really excited to have such a high number of local programmers and people who do things like this for a living excited for this event and coming in and helping our people out,” Duncko said.

The mentors will also be able to assist people who haven’t done anything like this before.

“If [someone] wants to make their first website or first app or first anything really, this is a great time to sit there and spend almost a full workweek learning how to make their first one,” Duncko said.

Nicholas Serra, founder of Code Youngstown—an organization that connects software engineers, developers and coders in the area — has been involved with organizing the event.

“We like to see any kind of event that hosts students or anybody that wants to get involved with programming or coding,” Serra said. “Anything that does student outreach or outreach to anybody to get them more involved in hacking and coding is something that we’re going to get behind, especially locally in Youngstown.”

There will be a closing ceremony where students will be able to display their creations science-fair style. The top five will be able to present their projects, and three will be chosen to receive prizes.

Hack YSU has gotten a lot of help from companies that would like to see the area increase its technological footprint.

“Companies like Delphi, Turning [Technologies], they both are coming here and have employees that want to see Youngstown do really cool,” Duncko said. “We find that companies like having the good PR and just having a relationship with Youngstown State.”

Companies will also provide products such as 3-D printers for students to try.

“Since hackathons give students 36 hours to try out these products, it’s a really cool opportunity to bug test and see what’s wrong with customer interactions with those products,” Duncko said.

Companies are keeping their eyes open for future interns and employees.

“For the most part because it’s YSU’s first hackathon, a lot of these [companies] are there to help us out and they’re hoping that next year they can take a better look at the students that participated, maybe look into offering internships to some of the students, things like that. Essentially, they want to help these students become successful, so they can help out their own companies,” Duncko said.

Serra said he hopes the turnout will be significant enough to draw attention to the area and raise interest in coding, application and software building.

“If they get a couple hundred people out there, it shows that there’s a large base of people in the area that want to do that kind of work and are interested in technology and are interested in pursuing those kind of careers,” Serra said. “I’m hoping that people are there and are excited to be there and want to create cool things with code and get more involved in coding and just network with people in the area and hopefully we can do more events like this and get more people involved.”

They currently have about 100 students from various schools registered and are hoping to reach around 150 students.

“We set our sights really high to begin with,” Duncko said. “We’re hoping for 150 students, but we’ll be very happy if we hit over 100.”

For more information or to register for Hack YSU, you can visit their website at www.hackysu.com.