Giving hacking a new meaning

HOUGHTON – “Hacking” usually has a negative connotation and is not likely something that would be openly allowed. However, over the weekend at Michigan Technological University 135 students participated in an organized hackathon.

“Hacking is just working on a single project for an extended period of time and just trying to get it done,” said Mike Tuer, a senior studying software engineering at Michigan Tech and one of the event organizers.

Hackathons, Tuer said, actually started with companies looking for innovation and creativity from employees. They would be given time off to work on individual or group projects, which were then used by the company.

“They would give employees a week off to work on projects that were not really critical and found they got a lot of innovation and new ideas,” Tuer said. “Then companies would host hackathons for the public and then use the ideas for the company. From that it grew into these student run competitions.”

The hackathon at Michigan Tech took place over a span of 18 hours, from Friday at 6 p.m. until Saturday at noon.

“That’s actually relatively short for a hackathon,” Tuer said. “My first went for 36 hours.”

The 30 registered teams of students worked through the night to complete a project, which was judged by a panel of faculty members at the end of the event for the chance to win prizes. The projects varied widely, with first place going to the team who concocted “Our Door.” The team designed a project which determined what mobile devices were connected to the home network and then sent a photo of the person who was at the door.

“Then they can check who the person is and if it’s someone you should be opening the door for or someone who shouldn’t be there,” Tuer said.

The event was not the first of its type at Michigan Tech, although it was the first sponsored by the Associated Students of Michigan group at Tech. Other clubs have sponsored hackathons, but, Tuer said, they were smaller events and generally focused on students from a particular major or department.

“We were interested in hitting all computing majors and bringing them all together in one location,” Tuer said.

Although no date is set, another – hopefully even bigger – hackathon is being planned for the spring.

“Next semester we are planning on doing it even bigger,” Tuer said. “We’ll have more time to plan, to approach more companies and invite other universities to come to Michigan Tech. We also want to expand to high schools and employees from companies, not just restrict the event to students.”