HackSC Connects the World in 2021
USC’s largest hackathon goes virtual this month with a theme of connectivity
By Andrea Renney
The Center for Advanced Research Computing is a proud sponsor of HackSC ‘21.
USC’s largest student-run hackathon, HackSC, is back for 2021 with a new virtual format.
What’s a hackathon? From HackSC’s website: “A hackathon is a 36 hour competition in which teams of students collaborate to ideate and innovate solutions to real world problems!"
HackSC ‘21 runs for 36 hours from February 19-21, and Katie Wong (President), Elissa Perdue (Vice President and Director of Sponsorship), and Max Leiter (Vice President and Lead of Engineering) are united in their vision of making HackSC rise to become one of the best hackathons in the nation.
This year, HackSC is operating with a theme of connectivity with the goal of connecting the world. The theme is clearly the result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing becoming the “new normal”. “We got launched into this pandemic and had just been coming off of our [last] hackathon in 2020,” says Wong. “We were faced with the decision of ‘what should we do moving forward?’. We realized hackathons [are] incredibly important for [students’] innovation. With that, we wanted to continue the spirit of hackathons and allow students to continue to innovate and collaborate with other people.”
The choice to move forward with an online format for HackSC ‘21 was an obvious — and early — one for the executive team. “We chose to go online really early because we saw that it might be necessary,” says Leiter. A year after the onset of the pandemic, the choice to move online for 2021 is proving to be a smart one.
HackSC is combating the feelings of isolation that could arise with an entirely online hackathon by creating their own in-house application. Without the usual in-person meeting and mingling, participants might find it challenging to link up with their peers and form teams. HackSC’s solution was to build a team-matching portal to group participants into teams. They also plan to use the portal to promote interaction by grouping people together for one-on-one coffee chats. “We wanted to make sure our hackathon allows hackers to not only collaborate on projects, but also meet new people and participate in fun activities so they continue to feel like they’re a part of this hackathon,” says Wong.
Hackathons aren’t just for students with computer science and engineering backgrounds. HackSC is open to undergraduate and graduate students from all majors, and students with no coding experience are encouraged to participate and share their ideas. “[A hackathon] is a really cool space to bring together a lot of ideas and backgrounds [...] coming together and bringing different perspectives,” says Perdue.
Students in non-STEM majors might be apprehensive to participate in a hackathon, but the do-it-yourself nature of a hackathon is the perfect opportunity for students to try something outside their comfort zones. “When I started going to hackathons, I was very self conscious about my abilities and wasn’t sure if I would be able to make anything,” says Wong, who has now attended numerous hackathons throughout California. “When you’re creating a completely new product, you get the chance to fail. You get the chance to try new things and learn new technologies.”
Besides the opportunity to get involved with their peers at USC, for Wong, Perdue, and Leiter, hackathons are a great way to learn new technologies that are being used in the industry. Often, the programming languages and technologies used in Computer Science classrooms aren’t necessarily what’s currently popular. “Hackathons and their workshops and speakers give you a chance to see what technologies are used in the field. The companies that sponsor us are modern, current companies that are usually pretty popular,” says Leiter. This year’s sponsors include InterSystems, Northrop Grumman, and Google Cloud, among others.
Above all, HackSC ‘21 serves as a way for USC students to stay connected during a challenging time. Wong, Perdue, and Leiter hope that this year’s hackathon can produce projects that help bring the world closer together: “We really wanted to create a space for hackers to innovate on connectivity and create projects that are going to connect people in this new age we’re moving into.”
For more information about HackSC ‘21, see their website at https://hacksc.com.