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HackRU showcases student inventions

Nearly 800 hackers stay glued to their computers for 24 hours to come up with innovations in the world of programming this past weekend at the College Avenue Student Center. – Photo by Marielle Sumergido

Students at last week’s hackathon showcased everything from goggles that put subtitles on reality to a glove that is also control device. 

“HackRU Fall 2014” took place Oct. 11 to 12 in the College Avenue Student Center. 

This was a notably smaller venue than the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Livingston campus, where “HackRU Spring 2014” was held last April. 

Around 800 hackers, students, mentors and others attended, according to event director Sam Agnew, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Four buses of non-Rutgers students came to the event, including one bus with hackers who came all the way from Canada. Three people flew out all the way from Puerto Rico, Agnew said. 

Prizes were given out to winners by both “HackRU’s” judges and the event’s sponsors, ranging from gift cards to as-of-yet unreleased Alienware Steam machines.

First place went to Powerglove, a glove that lets the user use his or her hand as a control input. It impressed judges both in its technicality and practicality.

Second place was Mongit, a proof-of-concept that allows users to store data in the cloud through Reddit.

Third place went to Sono, an augmented reality system that hopes to assist the hard of hearing by creating what are essentially goggles that overlay subtitles on what you see. 

The number of high school students at “HackRU” impressed Rutgers alumni Vaibhav Verma and Jonathan Maltz, both of who acted as organizers and student mentors. In fact, high school students created the second-place hack, Mongit.

There were so many high school students at “HackRU” that there was a high school hacker meet up during the hackathon. Verma said it was bigger than several past “HackRU” hackathons in their entirety.

“For some reason, there’s always been a strong high school presence at ‘HackRU,’” said Maltz. “I think it’s because there’s always been a very strong technical high school presence in central New Jersey.”

Verma attended “hackBCA,” a high school hackathon at Bergen County Academies that had nearly 500 attendees. The difference between hacks coming out of high school hackathons and hacks coming from college hackathons is almost unrecognizable, he said. 

“The technical prowess that these guys have is on par with anyone else,” Verma said. 

“HackRU” is traditionally a great environment for learning and collaboration for students of all ages. Verma and Maltz said holding the hackathon in a more compartmentalized environment was better than the big, open spaces of the RAC.

Having “HackRU” in the College Avenue Student Center is better because it’s more subdivided, Maltz said. 

“The best part about hackathons is often not the technical stuff you learn, it’s the relationships you form,” he said. “In a more intimate environment like this, you’re probably going to be more comfortable talking to people.”

Maltz pointed out that “MHacks,” the Michigan University hackathon, also switched venues from their monstrous football stadium to a smaller, more intimate location.

That intimacy and community is a big part of why hackathons are so beloved by those who attend.

Verma and Maltz gave praise to Rutgers administration for making organizing the hackathon easier each year. 

Maltz believed this is because of the unique, learning-focused nature of hackathons. 

“You had a bunch of college-age students in an environment for 24 hours on a Saturday and Sunday to make productive things. The only way that [Rutgers University Programming Assocation] does that is by throwing a massive concert, and kids show up drunk to that anyway,” Maltz pointed out.

“HackRU” has become a rallying point for the community‚ which can be read about in Tech Tuesday’s “Hello World” feature about spring 2014’s “HackRU.” 

“[Students] come here, they try to build something and they try to present it. There’s really nothing else valued at a hackathon other than helping other people do the same,” Verma said. 

Even if a hackathon is not where you do your most productive work, going to a hackathon is a better opportunity compared to other events, he said.

“I never understood why hackathons are so big, but then I realized that as a student, so many events you go to are just fluff,” Verma said. 

Maltz noticed that Rutgers alumni have been appreciating the social aspect of hackathons in increasing numbers. 

Because so many past Rutgers students are still in the area, HackRU acts as a reunion. There was a train of 15 or 20 alumni who left for Stuff Yer Face together, Maltz said.

“Often, companies that alumni work for sponsor the event. It’s a great way for alumni to come back and stay connected,” Maltz said.

“HackRU” is growing in popularity and scope, and the spring incarnation has more potential than ever. Either way, Verma and Maltz are proud of what the team has accomplished. 

“We’re going to remember HackRU for many, many years,” Verma said.

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