‘Hacking’ the Path to New Opportunities

1487

An app that changes how you interact with Santa Cruz might just be born this weekend. The Center for Entrepreneurship invites UCSC students to develop applications with a focus on Santa Cruz in a 32-hour sprint at the university’s first hackathon April 5-6. Participants of the event, which is entitled Hack UCSC, will have the chance to win prizes ranging from $1,000-$4,000.

Students who purchase one of the 150 tickets to Hack UCSC will work in teams to develop mobile apps or web programs that will be judged on three criteria — whether the idea has been done before or is an improvement on an existing idea, relevance to Santa Cruz and whether or not something was technically difficult to achieve.

The event was spearheaded by Mark Adams, a student coordinator at the UCSC Center for Entrepreneurship. Adams said unlike Hollywood’s characterization of “hacking,” hackathons focus more on assembling a program, which is referred to as a “hack.”

“What people think of as hacking is actually cracking in the computer world,” Adams said. “When we talk about it being a hackathon and they’re hacks, it’s about the projects people build, not about gaining entry into any security systems.”

Adams was inspired to bring this event to UCSC after previously participating in three hackathons. The largest hackathon he participated in was LaunchHack 2013 in San Francisco, in which he joined a team as a designer.

“What struck me about it was the diversity of the team I joined,” Adams said. “There was a 30-year-old British engineer, a 40-year-old Indian engineer and a 30-year-old female professor, and I’m coming in as a college student and I was treated as an equal. I would be throwing out ideas and it was the merit of the idea, not my background, that justified what I was saying.”

In his experience, Adams said the energy at hackathons is exhilarating and by the end of the night, leaves one with a sense of accomplishment and wonder toward the product and the process itself.

“Initially it’s pretty chaotic, you’ve got all these people in one room and there’s an atmosphere of excitement because everybody kind of feels the thrill,” Adams said. “Throughout the event it’s pretty steady-going at first. Then you start realizing what we’re trying to do might be too ambitious, or we’re not implementing this correctly, as you work through the night. You end up pushing yourself really hard to get this thing out the gate.”

While some people will come to the hackathon as a pre-gathered team, unattached people who don’t already have a team will be given time at the beginning of the event to roam around the room pitching their idea or their skillset to other teams until teams of four are formed. The different skillsets necessary to create a great finished product extend beyond just coding.

“The misnomer is you need to be a coder to participate, but the fact of the matter is that a team of engineers is going to need a designer to really polish what they’re doing and a speaker to go up on the stage and give a really great presentation,” Adams said.

Representatives from Google and a variety of other tech companies such as SugarCRM and Arqetype will each judge four or five teams’ finished “hacks” and choose one team to go on to the finals round, which will be presented to everyone. Doug Erickson, a host of Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp and Hack UCSC organizer reached out to the judges, most of whom have been involved with tech companies throughout their career and were chosen based on their experience in the industry.

Adams said the first, second and third place prizes will be $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 respectively, and one $1,000 prize will be awarded to a team chosen by a group of professors and administrators.

The winning teams will be left to decide for themselves how to use the award money. Adams said they can either treat it as a payment or as funding to continue working on their program. In addition, the winning teams will be given the chance to pitch their “hack” to the larger tech community.

“Part of the value of the competition is not only do they get that money but they also later get to present to Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, which is a big gathering of 200–300 people — basically the who’s who of tech in Santa Cruz,” Adams said. “There’s an opportunity to potentially get investments or venture capital funds if the idea is good enough.”

Plans to host Hack UCSC were conceived when Adams pitched the idea to UCSC’s Center for Entrepreneurship director Brent Haddad. Haddad said the idea of a hackathon seemed exciting and valuable to the community, and Adams’ background in leadership and organization led him to sponsor the event.

“Our students will meet smart, successful people from the community who volunteered to serve as mentors during the event,” Haddad said via email. “We’re also underlining the statement that UCSC is a place where great ideas are created and get traction. And the theme of the event, ‘Santa Cruz,’ is about our region and signifies the importance of the campus to the community and vice versa.”

While Hack UCSC will be the university’s first hackathon, Adams hopes it will continue as an annual tradition, so future generations of students can experience the camaraderie and satisfaction of creating an app in a weekend-long marathon.

“It’s just a crazy thing. You’re at the end of this and you look at your teammates like, ‘did we really just do this?’ Adams said. “When it comes down to it, the fact that you can come in and everybody has a part to play is just really cool.”

 

Hack UCSC is open to all UCSC students and will take place April 5-6 at Oakes Learning Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased before registration closes on Thursday  at 12 p.m. at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hack-ucsc-tickets-10740219285.