Illinois State University Hosts First Hackathon

Students worked in teams of one to four to create new apps, websites, software or hardware to win prizes and earn valuable points in a national competition.

by Kevin Barlow, The Pantagraph / April 28, 2015 0

(TNS) -- "Technology," loosely defined, describes how things get done, but for 100 of the brightest technical minds from a dozen colleges and universities participating over the weekend in RedbirdHacks, it's a way of life.

"I consider it a sin if I see someone misusing technology," said Jared Weiss of Rockford, an Illinois State University junior who participated in the three-day tech competition that ended Sunday at ISU's Center for Visual Arts.

Students worked in teams of one to four to create new apps, websites, software or hardware to win prizes and earn valuable points in a national competition. Weiss and three other ISU classmates worked all weekend creating a video game.

"This is the first 'hackathon' hosted by ISU," said ISU senior Rachel Schifano of Normal, one of the event organizers. "Hackathons are basically sports for programmers. It's a competition for people who like technology. What makes this unique is the intersection of different disciplines."

There wasn't much sleep or rest for the participants, who were given only 36 hours to make anything they chose. They could enter the competition with an idea, but all coding had to be done during the hackathon.

The projects were judged on creativity, technical difficulty, usefulness and overall awesomeness, Schifano said. There was no admission fee, but sponsors such as Mirus Research, State Farm, Trustwave and the George and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the ISU School of Information Technology helped fund the competition.

Sponsors attended closing ceremonies Sunday afternoon for presentations from each of the teams.

Projects ranged from video games to new apps, such as an alarm system, created by Milan Dasgupta of Naperville, a senior from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"What makes my alarm different from others is that when it wakes you up, it gives you the temperature, the weather forecast for the day from Yahoo, and a math question, which will stimulate your brain and help you wake up," he said.

ISU junior Alex Troemel of Round Lake Beach worked with Weiss.

"I just love programming and working with codes," Troemel said. "It's quite an accomplishment to come here Friday night with just a simple idea and within 36 hours, have something you can actually show someone."

Students were allowed to bring Ethernet adapters and cables, laptops, phones and phone chargers as well as pillows, sleeping bags and blankets.

"We didn't get much sleep," Troemel said. "But we knew that coming in. It gives you a great deal of satisfaction to work so hard on something, as a team, and see it come together. We're tired. But we've accomplished something."

"We're all nerds here," Weiss said. "But we are OK with that and we all love technology and creating something from scratch. A competition like this is great because you build something and learn something at the same time."

©2015 The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.