Friday, February 23, 2024

Programmers and paleontologists alike to compete at ninth annual RowdyHacks

Programmers and paleontologists alike to compete at ninth annual RowdyHacks

FEBRUARY 23, 2024 — What do dinosaurs, Thai food and computer science have in common? You can find them all at the ninth annual RowdyHacks hackathon, to be held this weekend at San Pedro I. Hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery at UTSA (ACM), RowdyHacks is a chance for students from all over Texas to come together to learn and show off their skills as they work in teams to complete various computer science projects.

The event runs from Saturday, February 24 through Sunday, February 25.

Experienced coders and complete novices will enjoy RowdyHacks, which has something for everyone, says logistics lead and ACM vice president Liam Murray, a junior computer science major.

“RowdyHacks welcomes anyone and everyone. We want to see people from all backgrounds and all skill levels there,” he said. “It’s an event about learning and community experience.”

To serve a diverse set of skill levels and interests, the hackathon will feature a variety of competition tracks for teams. While some are straightforward — Beginner, Intermediate, Cyber, or Hardware — this year’s event also has other unique options. For example, participating “hackers” will have the chance to design a project related to San Antonio using opensource datasets about the city.

The theme for the 2024 event is “A Land Before RowdyHacks,” a nod to the animated film series “A Land Before Time,” explains RowdyHacks co-director Nathan Zuniga, a sophomore computer science major. True to the theme, another competition track will have students developing projects around dinosaurs.

“RowdyHacks welcomes anyone and everyone. We want to see people from all backgrounds and all skill levels there.”

RowdyHacks gives students from across Texas the opportunity to show off their skills as they work in teams to complete various computer science projects.

“We wanted to make something fun and silly. We like RowdyHacks to be a fun and chillax event, while also still supporting the community,” Zuniga added. “While we were brainstorming, I thought dinosaurs would be really cool.”

Perhaps it’s fortunate the team wasn’t inspired by a different Spielberg film about dinosaurs.

Hackers will have the opportunity to attend workshops and engage with mentors who have professional experience across a variety of computer science fields. These sessions will help students gain experience and expand their skillsets. Those trying to land jobs or internships will find that RowdyHacks provides invaluable networking and recruiting opportunities for students and recruiters, says RowdyHacks Director Meira (Mei) Sullum, a junior computer science major.

“It’s a really great way to get your foot in the door to directly talk to a recruiter,” she said. “Just showing up at an event like this is showing recruiters that you’re putting in that extra effort, so it helps you stand out. Usually, recruiters end up reaching out afterwards at hackathons. It’s a very good way to find companies and internships.”

As part of its 10-year strategic plan, UTSA aims for 75% of its undergraduate students to participate in some type of experiential learning by the time they graduate.

Besides the experiential learning and professional development opportunities at the event, one of the key draws of RowdyHacks is that it’s fun. As logistics lead, ensuring that RowdyHacks is indeed a good time is one of Murray’s primary responsibilities.

“There’s two sides to hackathons: There’s doing the actual project and then there’s also that hackathon experience, which is going there, learning, being there for the vibes. It’s going to be a good time,” he said. “I really like it when I see people showing up and realizing we have Pad Thai from local restaurants or plenty of snacks. Having that experience and having people see the fruit of all the work that we’ve been doing is super rewarding. I can’t wait to see it this weekend.”

This year’s event will be the second RowdyHacks held at San Pedro I. Organizers are hoping to build upon last year’s successes and utilize the space to its full potential.

“This year we’re really trying to perfect that formula and put on the best event we can for 500 hackers,” Murray said.

However, in a bid to prioritize quality over size, the organizers for this year’s event decided to limit participation to roughly 500 students, approximately what it was last year.

Of course, 500 students from Texas and beyond is by no means a small event, nor does limiting the number of registrants imply that the event won’t expand in the future, Zuniga notes.

“RowdyHacks is the biggest hackathon in San Antonio,” he said. “When people from other universities think of RowdyHacks, they think of San Antonio; when they think of San Antonio, they think of RowdyHacks. Although we’re big right now, we’re only looking to grow.”

To create an account and register, or to learn more about RowdyHacks and next year’s event, click here.
Learn more about one of the leading tenants of San Pedro I, the UTSA School of Data Science.

In fact, this year’s organizers are already looking ahead to next year, Sullum says.

“We’re hoping to create a team before the summer hits so that during the summer people will be encouraged to dedicate their time to work on the event. We want to have fun and become more than just a team but become friends.”

For those still on the fence about attending RowdyHacks, Sullum, Zuniga and Murray strongly encourage students to make an account and register. Participation is free, but the experience, they note, is priceless.

“RowdyHacks is a life experience: You might as well experience it and see if you like it,” Zuniga said.

Christopher Reichert

UTSA Today is produced by University Strategic Communications,
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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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