Hesburgh Library to host annual Hackathon virtually
Spencer Kelly | Friday, April 16, 2021
After a yearlong hiatus, the Hesburgh Libraries Hackathon has returned with a new virtual format. Students will work in teams of two to four people to find a solution to the given theme within the given time period.
In past years, the Hackathon has taken place over a three-day period at the Hesburgh Library and culminated with in-person presentations of the final product. The 2021 Hackathon will be held entirely virtually and is occurring over a two week period. The event begins on Friday, April 16 and will end on Saturday, May 1 with teams submitting videos of their solution.
The teams will be judged based on the innovation, impact, usability and technical merit of their solution, along with the quality of their final video presentation. The winning team will receive $3,000 with additional cash prizes for the four runners-up.
Students interested in participating can register on the Hackathon website by 7 p.m. on Friday.
The theme for this year’s Hackathon, or the problem at which the groups will target their solutions, is “Building Connections.” Emerging Technologies Librarian and Hackathon co-chair Randy Harrison said the planning team tries to pick a theme that is broad enough to give students room for creativity but also addresses a societal need.
“If you look around in the world right now, people find it very difficult to build bridges of understanding and to connect with one another,” Harrison said. “It’s just this broad theme that reflects the larger need in our society to connect with people better.”
Harrison said that while the Hackathon is based around building a technological product, the event isn’t only for serious programmers. Anyone can participate and contribute to a successful group, and in fact, it is optimal if groups have a range of skills and expertise.
“A hackathon is collaboration between a diverse group of stakeholders and group members who have different skills and can bring those all together,” Harrison said. “Well-rounded teams that are diverse in terms of their talents — those are the teams that tend to do really well.”
Senior Sarah Hwang, whose team won the previous Hackathon in 2019, said that the variety of skills among her group members helped them succeed. The diversity of experience both within her group and among the other groups also provided a valuable learning opportunity.
“We had members on our team that all had different backgrounds,” Hwang said. “We learned from the others about stuff we didn’t know much about and I think we also learned a lot from seeing the other teams work because they all had different experiences.”
Beyond technical skills, senior Christina Youn, one of Hwang’s teammates, said her biggest area of learning was in the process of collaboration and project management.
“How to organize a project, how to set expectations for each team member, how to coordinate different parts in the end in order to have a good presentation — I think those were probably the biggest takeaways that I actually got,” Youn said. “It helps later on whenever we’re going to do other projects, whether it be for school or for my research.”
Harrison said he hopes students will learn something about the library as well. The Hackathon was started in large part to dispel common assumptions about what resources the library can provide for students.
“Students somehow always just think of libraries as places where there are just books or magazines or journals or things like printed materials, but libraries are extremely digital nowadays,” Harrison said. “We in the library are incredibly open and accepting, and we are there to help people in different areas and especially with technology. I feel like a lot of students just aren’t aware of that.”
“The Hackathon is a perfect example of how we really try to create programs that give people the space to work together and collaborate and learn and grow,” Harrison said.
For students on the fence about doing for the Hackathon, Youn recommends going for it.
“You really have nothing to lose,” Youn said. “You’re not paying to participate, you don’t need a certain qualification to participate; you only have something to gain from it.”
Hwang said that the Hackathon is a great educational opportunity and resume booster, but is also just a fun experience overall.
“By the end of it, you’re going to have a really cool project to speak about,” Hwang said. “It’s really fun to see how you can think of an idea and bring it to life in just a couple weeks.”