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San Pedro I opens its doors for eighth annual RowdyHacks on March 25

San Pedro I opens its doors for eighth annual RowdyHacks on March 25

MARCH 24, 2023 — During the grand opening of San Pedro I on January 9, 2023, the building was abuzz as UTSA leadership, tech leaders and city officials flocked to celebrate the new home of the university’s School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center.

On March 25, the building will host a rather different, but no less excited group, as over 500 university students from around Texas will occupy San Pedro I for 24 hours to participate in the eighth annual RowdyHacks competition. Sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery at UTSA (ACM), a student organization dedicated to fields related to technology and computing, the hackathon is free for students age 18 and older.

“These hackathons are a great way for students to learn and grow their knowledge about computer science, or anything relating to computing,” said Kevin Desai, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and the ACM’s faculty advisor.

“We want to have fun and we want to make sure this is a great experience for everyone.”

A hackathon—the name is a portmanteau of “hacking” and “marathon”—is a type of social event where coders, programmers and others interested in computer science fields come together to learn, collaborate and compete for prizes within a set period of time, frequently 24 hours. Historically, RowdyHacks has also served students by incorporating workshops providing networking opportunities with local tech industries.

Yet, RowdyHacks is for more than hardcore coders. On the contrary, the hackathon features multiple tracks and challenges to include hackers of all skill levels and areas of specialization. These include a beginner and advanced track, as well as challenges for the best retro hack, best hardware hack, a specific cybersecurity challenge and more.

“That’s the great thing about a hackathon,” said RowdyHacks Director and junior computer science major Quynh (Quincy) Nguyen. “You don’t have to know anything; you don’t spend anything because it’s free and you can come and learn all these different things.”

Nguyen has personally experienced the trepidation that first-time hackers face.

“I remember going into my first hackathon being so scared, not knowing anyone because I was so new and not sure of my technical skills yet,” she said. “But I came out of it running to Google looking for the next hackathon to go to because it was just so fun. That’s what kind of encouraged me to run to become RowdyHacks director, because I want to help others experience what I did.”

While the students organizing RowdyHacks have made great strides to ensure the event is approachable for first-time hackers, they have also made sure there will be plenty to attract experienced hackers and repeat attendees. Regardless of level, they understand that the competition provides students with a hands-on learning experience to test the skills they’ve learned in the classroom.

“There’s something new that happens every year within RowdyHacks and that’s the change of theme,” said Vamshi Ponnala, RowdyHacks co-director and UTSA senior computer science major.

For example, Ponnala says last year’s theme was “Retro” while this year’s is called “Into the Unknown” and deals with exploration.

RowdyHacks has something new and exciting for everyone, says Ponnala.

“We’ve got new prizes, new swag, new workshops, new companies to talk to,” he said. “There’s just a lot of new things, especially the building; we’ve got a new, big building.”

That new, big building is San Pedro I, and the directors of RowdyHacks are excited to commandeer the flagship of the School of Data Science, if only for 24 hours.

On a practical level, SPI can provide the hackers with more space than their previous, well-loved accommodations on the UTSA Main Campus. More philosophically, some view SPI as a symbol of the thriving technology industry located in Downtown San Antonio, part of the “Silicone Hills” that run north to Austin. Elijah Moya is one who shares this view.

“When we had the opportunity to be here at San Pedro I, it was like my dreams were coming true,” he said. “We can show UTSA students and people interested in technology that there’s technology in San Antonio and we’re going to use this data science building to show it off to everyone.”

This is especially true this year, Moya adds, as the 2023 RowdyHacks will be the first to have a significant presence of participants from outside San Antonio. For the last year, Moya and other ACM members have been attending hackathons across Texas to spread the word about RowdyHacks. The results of their outreach efforts are evidenced by more than 500 students who signed up this year.

“This isn’t just UTSA students. These are people from all across Texas that are going to come to UTSA and experience RowdyHacks and experience the fun,” Moya said. “Our motto is ‘Howdy, howdy, let’s get Rowdy,’ so we want to be rowdy. We want to have fun and we want to make sure this is a great experience for everyone.”

⇒ Learn more and register for the 2023 RowdyHacks.
⇒ Students interested in attending more hackathons or helping organize next year’s RowdyHacks are encouraged to check out ACM at UTSA.

And yet, despite the many meetings, late nights and missed dinners, the attitude of those tireless workers is primarily one of enthusiasm and eager anticipation.

“We have this giant to-do list,” Nguyen said. “I think there’s 50 items on it or more, but we’re checking them off day by day and it’s going really well. Everything is on track and I think it’s going to be one of the best RowdyHacks yet.”

Christopher Reichert

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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