Randi Williams, ’16, Computer Engineering, is a co-founder of hackUMBC.
22 teams of UMBC hackers spent an intense 24 hours late last semester in a battle of creativity and wits aimed at improving campus life. This first-ever UMBC hackathon—hackUMBC–was itself the product of a creative breakthrough, stemming from a conversation I had in a San Francisco Starbucks four months earlier.
Along with Perry Ogwuche, ’14, Computer Science and Mathematics, I spent last summer completing a fellowship with CODE2040, a non-profit organization striving to bring more African American and Latino coders into San Francisco and Silicon Valley. As part of the fellowship, the two of us had numerous conversations with ordinary people who had identified problems in their communities, used their coding skills to solve them, and built companies in the process. In that conversation at Starbucks, we asked ourselves, “How awesome would it be if everyone in Baltimore, or even just at UMBC, felt empowered to solve problems and change their community on a grand scale?”
We felt the need to share this enthusiasm with our community. We invited two more UMBC students to join our team–Alexander Morrow, ’14 Computer Science, and Prajit Kumar Das, a Ph.D student in Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. We approached Student Life, SGA, and the Shriver Center for initial guidance in planning a 24 hour event on campus. The Computer Science Department also assisted us in generating the kind of ideas, capital, and marketing needed to get 100 people hacking in one place.
In early Internet history, a “hacker” was a computer programmer who used their talents and skills to quickly create programs and systems, often in pursuit of a solution to a complex issue or problem (only recently has the term taken on other meanings, including illegal cyber activities). A “hackathon” is a set period of time in which hackers—the good kind!—convene to develop these new programs together.
At hackUMBC, teams produced 22 projects that improved campus life at UMBC. The sophistication behind these projects made me proud to be a UMBC student, and it helped us send the message to attending professors that students make significant contributions to the UMBC community. Some of the award-winning projects included:
Other hacks included making it easier for students to keep track of their grades, form study groups, better navigate myUMBC, and find places to eat.
hackUMBC was incredible, but it is only just the beginning. Our next move is to start a new club on campus called innovateUMBC. Michael Bishoff and I, with support from the other hackUMBC organizers, will be leading this organization. innovateUMBC will be hosting more hackathons, starting this spring, and visiting hackathons at other schools around the country. We look forward to working with the UMBC community to identify and develop additional ways to improve campus life.