HackYSU 2021 Goes Virtual

Due to the pandemic, the HackYSU competition this year will be held on Discord. Photo courtesy of Samuel Hofman.

By Douglas M. Campbell

This weekend, laptops and computer monitors will light up rooms across the city as the Youngstown State University Hackers group hosts the seventh annual HackYSU competition.

The competition is an event where students of all majors and experience levels can come together. They are given 24 hours to create anything from a creative technology project to an innovative device. The event usually lasts the entire weekend, but was shortened due to the Easter holiday.

James Dittrich, a web programming professor, is an adviser to the campus group and in his classes regularly encourages students to participate in the event.

“I have always made mention of these things in my classes, and it’s such a good educational experience. You have that condensed learning over the course of the event that all ability levels — regardless of whether you can make a contribution or not,” Dittrich said.

Due to the pandemic, the competition this year will be held on Discord, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform used mostly for gaming. 

Samuel Hofmann, a sophomore computer information systems major, is the president of the group and said the decision to use Discord for the competition came from the group utilizing it earlier for meetings as well as for hosting and moderating smaller events.

“It’s been interesting seeing the event grow. Every year we have more people show up. We are hoping for at least 80 people this year. We know that it might be a smaller event than it usually is, but it’s been interesting to see it grow,” Hofmann said. 

Excluding the pandemic, obstacles for the group in organizing the competition this year include securing funds for the event. Private companies haven’t donated as much in comparison to prior years due to economical constraints. The STEM College and the Student Government Association were the main contributors this year.

“That was the main obstacle this year in securing funding and having people at the event that would have links to corporate professional organizations,” Hofmann said. 

The event will consist of an opening ceremony, guest speakers who will give presentations throughout the day and time designated for participants to “break the ice.”

Rules for the competition are: all teams must consist of five or less members and all projects must be created at the event. Additional rules can be found on their website under the Major League Hacking’s code of conduct, which asks participants, judges and sponsors to be respectful. 

Ryan Lalchand, a junior computer science major, is the group’s secretary and is a coordinator and moderator for the event. He recalls projects in the past.

“We have had people work on art, designs,” Lalchand said “There was someone who wrote a research paper on ransomware attacks — you name it. It is mostly programming, but you can come and do whatever you [want]. It doesn’t have to be computer-oriented and you might even have a shot at some cool prizes.”

Other items created in past competitions include a virtual reality dishwashing game that can be played on an Oculus and a 3D-printed braille grocery tag. 

Winning team members will receive Amazon e-gift cards for a yet-to-be determined amount. 

The event will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, April 2 and conclude at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 3. More information is available on the HackYSU website.