When most people think of a hacker, they think of a shadowy figure using technology to wreak havoc. But there are many others that approach hacking to solve problems, create workarounds and develop new methods to use existing technology in more efficient ways.
And then there is somewhere in between, a place where creativity and even silliness shape programming projects just for the sake of learning.
Seth Goldin and Aden Eagle, data science fellows at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience and officers of the FAU Google Developer Student Club, recently organized an event called Hackapalooza, a two-day self-proclaimed “programming extravaganza” where students attended workshops to learn coding techniques. Centered around a theme of “unnecessary hacks,” Hackapalooza encouraged programmers to use creativity to build fun coding projects that they found interesting or amusing.
“We wanted to help promote creative thinking for people who were just getting into programming. And that was the basis for making our topic about unleashing your creativity and developing the unnecessary. We supported unique uses of programming and creative approaches to programming and logic problems,” said Eagle.
Because Goldin and Eagle’s primary audience were students, they decided to create a format that allowed participants to build their skills in a way that interested them. In addition to the programming component, Hackapalooza featured training sessions that ultimately attracted students across the world, thanks in part to the Delta variant which prevented the event from being held in person.
“We had an attendee from Spain, a couple of people from India, some people from Canada, students from other schools in the US, like Dartmouth or UT Austin, and some people from California. It was exciting because we had initially intended for this event to be FAU-only, but by moving it online, we ended up with a hackathon that was a lot more multicultural, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds who all share a common interest, no matter where they are,” said Goldin.
Most of the participants developed their project idea utilizing the techniques they learned during the event, and in the end, awards were given for outstandingly creative, albeit not necessarily useful projects. The winning entries exemplify these qualities. First place went to “Waff.el,” an extension that adds a virtual waffle to a coding text editor. The waffle serves no purpose but is fun to look at and can be customized to the user’s preferred level of “doneness.”
Second place was awarded to a project titled “Stochastic L-Trees,” which generated random tree designs with leaves and branches using stochastic mathematical procedures for novelty. And the project proclaimed most creative, the “Emojimizer,” converts every word on a website into a corresponding emoji.
As adept as they are at computer programming, organizing an event of this scale was a new experience for both Goldin and Eagle. “It was definitely new for us to try and plan something of this magnitude. We had both hosted individual workshops before, but those were just internal through the FAU Google Developer Student Club,” said Eagle. “Hackapalooza combined ten of these workshops with an overall competition, which was intimidating, but also exciting.”
Goldin agrees with the sentiment. “I find building teamwork skills and learning to work collaboratively to be really valuable no matter what field you’re in,” he says. “I’m glad that we were able to put this event together and look back when it was finally all over and see what we had accomplished. That was incredibly rewarding – to say, we did it!”
Hackapalooza took place September 25th and 26th, 2021, and while no plans are in place for a follow-up event, both organizers would like to see Hackapalooza return one day. “We received great feedback afterward from both people who had attended previous Hackathons and first-time Hackathon participants telling us it was awesome and asking, ‘when’s the next one?’” said Eagle.
You can read more about Hackapalooza and the projects that resulted at hackapalooza.dev.