Joe Soultanis had to reassure William & Mary’s administrators when he proposed a 24-hour hackathon in Swem Library that the participants weren’t going to be taking aim at the university’s computer system.
“The word ‘hack’ has kind of changed its meaning over the last five to ten years,” Soultanis said. “Where previously it meant breaking into something or breaching network security or something like that, now it’s come to mean just creating some cool service or app from scratch in a short period of time.”
Soultanis ’15 is organizing TribeHacks, the first-ever hackathon held at William & Mary. It’s a 24-hour coding and design marathon set for March 29-30 in Swem Library. The idea of a hackathon is to create an environment for computing creativity that will produce the best—and coolest—piece of software possible in a day’s time.
Soultanis explained that a hackathon is, in part, a competition in that the work is judged and prizes are awarded, but the cooperative and collaborative elements of the experience are what keep coders “on the circuit,” traveling from one hackathon to another.
“A hackathon allows you see a bunch of like-minded people who are trying to do the same kinds of things that you are,” he said.
TribeHacks is part of the growing hackathon movement and has received a stamp of approval in the form of endorsement by Major League Hacking, an organization that bills itself as “the official college hackathon league.” Soultanis said that established Major League Hacking-endorsed hackathons at urban universities, such as the popular University of Pennsylvania’s PennApps event, attract thousands of participants.
For a newly created event, TribeHacks is doing pretty well: A month before TribeHacks was to begin, 160 hackers had already registered to participate. TribeHacks is open to the world’s coding community and Soultanis, a double major in computer science and physics, said he hopes participation will exceed 250 for the first year of TribeHacks.
The hackathon movement has secured the attention of the computer industry, which sees the opportunity to connect with the up-and-coding generation. So in addition to a growing list of registered participants, TribeHacks just added Google to a growing slate of sponsors that include some of the biggest names in the business. Soultanis said that sponsorship money will allow TribeHacks to subsidize travel expenses for hackers making the journey to Williamsburg for the event.
The TribeHacks corporate sponsors will send representatives to the event. Soultanis said. The reps serve a number of functions, distributing not only swag and goodwill, but also participating in tutoring sessions and circulating throughout the hackathon, offering coding advice and guidance. Sponsor reps also act as “talent scouts,” checking out the young coding talent to share with their colleagues who do the hiring.
Soultanis is a veteran of a couple of large hackathons and says the format offers coders a semi-structured environment to act upon “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this” conversations, working together to bring at least some of the concepts close to fruition.
“With the hustle and bustle of a college student’s life, you don’t always have a lot of time to devote to these things—or you might not have all the necessary skills you need to do whatever you want to build,” he said. Hackathons are a way to bring together coders with different skills and different backgrounds to pull resources and work together.Soultanis said TribeHacks will include introductory sessions for beginning coders as well as traditional opening and closing ceremonies. Prizes will be awarded in a number of categories, including best hack. You can follow news and announcements on the event through the TribeHacks web site and its Facebook page.