College hackers unite

January 28, 2016
Desirae Lee
photographer: Desirae Lee, courtesy of Major League Hacking

In just 24 hours, students created websites and apps during Swamp Hacks, the University of Florida's second annual hacker convention.

Hackers from UF, Florida State University, Florida International University, Stetson University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaborated at the event January 23-24 in Marston Science Library. 

A collaboration with Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league powered by Dell and Intel, helped boost attendance to more than double last year's event. The Association of Computer Engineers, the Association of Computer Machinery, Women in Computer Science and Engineering, the Software Engineering Club and other student organizations began planning for the event, which is entirely student-run, in early fall. 

Hacking may be a misleading term, leaving people expecting a competition for cracking codes and breaking into computer systems. Instead, the attendees were creating innovative applications, many of them for the first time. Many students came on their own and formed teams with the new people they met. Isabel Laurenceau, a computer engineering major with a minor in dance, was one of the only solo hackers. She created an application to connect dancers all over Gainesville, alerting them of upcoming workshops and dance events. Laurenceau said that she has wanted to combine her interests into one idea for a while and used the hackathon as a way to finally make it happen.

Katie Porterfield attended with fellow Stetson University student Marisa Gomez. The two have attended dozens of hackathons and are planning to start one of their own.

“Hackathons are about pushing your limits and welcoming community,” Porterfield said.

Representatives from the event's sponsors mentored, recruited and served as judges at the event. Winning submissions included an application called “Honey, I’m Home,” which uses face recognition to notify residents of people entering their house. Another was a system for the visually impaired in which users can scan a room with their phone and have it speak keywords that describe what it “sees.” Prizes ranged from Xbox gaming systems to Canon cameras.

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