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Cypher VI, William & Mary’s student-run hackathon, is all online for 2021

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    All online:  The annual student-run hackathon will be all online this year.  
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Cypher VI, the 2021 version of William & Mary’s student-run hackathon is set for April 9-11 – and it’s entirely online.

Victor Tran ’23 says he expects to have around 220 people participate in the event. In recent years, William & Mary hackathons have seen scads of young coders gathered together in Swem Library. Tran, the lead organizer of Cypher VI, says the online version encourages a wider range of participants.

“Now that it’s all virtual, a lot of people from outside of Virginia can sign up,” he said. “We have people who have registered from as far away as India.”

Cypher VI will focus on environmental sustainability, in collaboration with Earth Hacks, a foundation dedicated to use the creative energy generated at hackathons to address environmental problems, but hackathon participants and teams may work on any kind of project.

The Cypher VI team, made up of members of William & Mary’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, have arranged an array of workshops for the event.

“We have several different workshops from William & Mary,” he said. “The geoLab, the Developer Student Club, the Entrepreneurship Center. There’s even workshops led by alumni.”

The hackathon activities will be conducted through a platform called Discord, with opening and closing ceremonies and presentations presented over YouTube. Tran explained that Discord facilitates communication and collaboration.

“Hackers will have channels that they can join and talk about things: networking, looking for groups,” he said. “Also, sponsors will have their own channels where they can talk about their opportunities and how they can help hackers with their projects.”

The organizers have landed quite an array of sponsors for Cypher VI, led by Northrop Grumman, allowing them to offer $3,500 worth of hackware prizes such as Echo Dots and mechanical keyboards.

Tran said he participated in two online hackathons this winter and he believes the team has everything in place for a successful virtual event. He said that no matter how successful the online Cypher VI turns out, he doesn’t expect virtual hackathons to replace traditional in-person, all-night events.

Then there’s the food. William & Mary hackathons have always been punctuated by the arrival of massive amounts of take-out. “We wish we could send everybody some kind of food credit,” Tran said.

“In-person hackathons here are so special,” he said. “You get to meet with friends, sit down anywhere you like in the library. There’s free food and swag from the sponsors. It’s a more memorable experience.

“But we’re glad to be able to host a virtual hackathon,” he added, “and be able to provide challenges and prizes for hackers.”