Team building and technology

By John Cox

Creation and education are at the heart of Hack YSU, a 36-hour hackathon where students of various experience levels come together to create something new. 

Students are tasked with finding a team and creating a piece of hardware or software, which can be any idea the group wishes to pursue. The projects are presented to a panel of judges near the end of the event. Prizes are awarded to the best projects. 

The Youngstown State University Computer Club organizes the event. Club president Samuel Hofmann said that experience with programming and computers isn’t necessary to be involved with the event.

“You don’t have to be a computer expert to go to our event. If you have an idea or passion, you can come in and end up with a project at the end of the 36 hours,” Hofmann said. 

Hofmann said turnout for Hack YSU is good, with usual attendance between 100 and 150 students, but they don’t always stay for the entire event. To combat this, the club is incorporating new attractions for attendees.

“Often many people show up on the first day and leave the first night,” Hofmann said. “We’ve been focusing on guest retention during the event and setting up more talks to attend during the event, giving learning opportunities to the students that show up,”  

Coding and programming are complex tasks and Hofmann wants to ensure Hack YSU is an easy entry for coding.

“We’re continuing to have a focus on technology coding and providing easy ways to get into programming without it being a daunting task,” Hofmann said.

These focuses are meant to entice students with a range of experience with computers and programming languages. 

Sophomore computer science major Nathan Gallagher said the beginner-friendly nature of Hack YSU and the guest speakers are what enticed him to attend last year’s event.

“It was advertised as beginner friendly, and being a freshman at the time, I thought it’d be a good idea to attend and see what I can learn,” Gallagher said. “There were guest speakers that came in that did various talks on certain subjects that were high-level topics and were also topics you might see in a real-world job. As a freshman, I found that very interesting.”

Through various sponsors, students are provided food, drinks and shirts. Hofmann said some students leave the venue at night and return home, but some stay the full 36 hours, with accommodations.

“We have a quiet room where they can bring a sleeping bag or air mattress and we also have YSU police security at night,” Hofmann said. 

The Computer Club chooses mentors based on their knowledge level and they serve as facilitators for projects, Hofmann said. This gives students attending Hack YSU the opportunity to network with experts in the field.

Gallagher said being able to work with others on the projects was rewarding.

“One of the most important things when it comes to computer science is being able to work as a team. Being able to meet new people and work on a project that you’ve never worked on before is a rewarding experience and that’s something that’ll carry on into future endeavors,” Gallagher said. “The experience of going in and learning new things is not something that you might get in a traditional classroom.” 

Hack YSU is April 14 through 16 in the DeBartolo Stadium Club. Registration is open via QR codes on flyers or on Hack YSU’s website.