HackGT: 36 hours of creativity and little sleep

Photo by Jaewon Drake

For the fifth year in a row, students from universities across the country descended upon the Klaus Building for the 36-hour coding challenge that is HackGT. This year’s theme, “Dare to Venture” celebrated curiosity and the spirit of adventure. Over the course of the weekend, the 1,000 students that participated worked around the clock to take their ideas and turn them into complex finished projects. 

“Our marquee event, HackGT, is a competition in which participants have 36 hours to make something amazing and let their creativity run wild. Our event gives students the space to use their computer science knowledge, but also to attend workshops and tech talks hosted by our team, our student organization partners, and our sponsors,” said Ellie Morton, a member of the event team and third-year CM.

The competition began late on Friday, Oct. 19 following opening remarks, dinner and a sponsor exposition. The flurry of activity did not end until Sunday morning with the end of the competition. Throughout the weekend, teams were treated to meals, snacks and games that provided a quick break from the work at hand. 

This year, competitors also had the unique opportunity to choose a path among four different options: mobile development, security, web development and artificial intelligence. Choosing a path enhanced the learning experience by providing educational workshops, the opportunity to speak in small groups with sponsors and “campsites,” small group mentoring sessions. 

“There was a lot of free food and free gear from companies, which was really cool,” said Daniel Profili, a third-year CS student who participated in HackGT this year. “I also went to an awesome workshop which definitely enriched the experience.” All the support and resources were provided with one goal in mind: to provide the competitors the ability to reach their full potential and ultimately drive innovation and creativity within the computing community.

“HackGT’s goal is to provide students with the resources to create anything they can imagine and help them learn new things. We provide the space for them to dedicate their time and energy to a project combining their creativity and their studies. As our director of communications loves to say, HackGT provides participants all the tools in the sandbox and participants can build any kind of sand castle they would like,” Morton said.

For many people this kind of support and the opportunities made available by the event are the exact reason they choose to participate.

“I signed up because I just wanted to have fun. The whole idea of starting a project on Friday and hopefully finishing it on Sunday is very exciting. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to finish, but it was still a great time and I learned so much,” Profili said. 

Furthermore, the opportunity to bolster one’s resume with a unique and creative project, and network with potential employers draws competitors to participate and to put their best foot forward. 

“I participated so that I could put on my resume that I completed a project, but I also really loved all of the free food and swag provided by the event sponsors,” said Juliana Petrillo, third-year CS.

Pulling together such an event is no easy feat. It requires tedious planning and a detail-oriented attitude. Together, the HackGT team works to make sure that any improvements that can be made are carried out and that all the details are thought through.

“In all honesty, no part of organizing the event is easy. It takes our team six to eight months to plan the weekend-long event because so much goes into it. There are certain parts of our events that can be somewhat streamlined, but in our eyes, to throw a successful event, every detail should be thought through and determined far in advance. This stays the same no matter how many times we may have done something before,” said Morton. 

Because of the hard work of the 44-member HackGT team, the event was an absolute success, both in the eyes of the participants and the event sponsors. The quality and creativity of the projects submitted by the teams and the reactions of the students to the event prove without a doubt that HackGT was a victory. 

Not only were students able to build upon and show off their knowledge and skills, but they were able to walk away with a finished project in which they could take pride.

“Over the last year, our team has worked tirelessly to iterate and improve on every part of our event. Although we can be quite critical of ourselves because we are always seeking to improve, sponsors and participants loved the event,” Morton said.

For Morton, all of the hard work was entirely worth it as she got to witness just how powerful an event such as HackGT can be.

“One of my favorite moments from HackGT was watching participants walk into Klaus for the first time and look around in awe. During and after the event, I love talking to participants and sponsors about their experience. Participants share what they learned, which companies they interacted with and how the event helped them apply their classroom knowledge to a project,” she said.

For participants, the effort was well worth it as well.

“We were not the most serious group, but spending my weekend working toward a tangible goal, learning so much more about computing and meeting awesome people along the way definitely made the weekend worthwhile,” said Profili.

In addition to this event, the HackGT team hosts several smaller events throughout the year. These events, which cater to high school students and non-CS students, are each part of the effort to share the excitement and innovation of science, technology and engineering fields. 

Be on the lookout for these events and for next year’s HackGT, all of which are poised to impress yet again.