In a world of ever-increasing screen time and the newfound necessity for virtual options, a non-profit known around the University of Georgia’s campus as UGAHacks seeks to create community through computer science and programming.
The non-profit, formally known as University Hackathons, hosts an annual programming event and competition, UGA Hackathon. Run by UGA students, they hope to host this event every semester starting in the fall of 2021.
The UGAHacks Hackathon is described as a 36-48 hour programming sleepover. Participants, or “hackers,” sponsors, mentors and other attendees come together to create anything they can think of. On the last day of the event projects are submitted for judging and winners are selected.
After an unprecedented year, UGAHacks was able to fall back on the community they have worked so tirelessly to create. Despite having to cancel their in-person hackathon, they had over 400 attendees and 46 project submissions at their sixth annual event.
A passion for programming
When senior computer science major Glen George first set foot on campus his freshman year, he was excited to explore the computer science and hacking community at UGA. George had heard about hackathons in highschool and was excited to get involved during his college career. Now, George has been involved in UGAHacks for four years and was the lead director of UGAHacks 6.
“I’ve got interested in making websites and stuff with friends in highschool, and I found out how much I like doing the actual coding. Once I got to college, I discovered all of the avenues of computer science, and it was all so promising for me,” George said.
While George discovered his love for technology in highschool, UGAHacks marketing and sponsorship organizer Venusly Yang inherited her talent for computer science from her family.
“Basically my entire family majored in computer science, so I took some classes in highschool and ended up loving them,” Yang, a sophomore computer science major, said.
Jeffrey John, junior computer science major and newly appointed lead director of UGAHacks 7, also inherited a passion for computer science from his parents. Having parents who worked with computers, John has been developing his passion since he first got a computer in elementary school. Fast forward, and John has served as a UGAHacks attendee his freshman year, a sponsorship organizer his sophomore year and a director of the sponsorship team for the most recent hackathon.
The everyday connotation of the term ‘hacking’ is often negative, evoking thoughts of identity theft, security breaches and other criminality. However, UGAHacks sees hacking differently.
“Hacking, in my eyes, is bringing an idea to life through a code or a program,” Yang said.
John had a similar sentiment, saying, “hacking, in it’s best form, is about throwing things together and seeing how they work.”
Hacking is an important facet of cybersecurity, and George mentioned the importance of hacking in identifying weak points in a code or in people’s personal systems.
“From our perspective, hacking is all about creating – just sitting down, coming up with an idea, and creating a cool result,” George said.
Like hacking is all about creating a program or code, UGAHacks is all about creating a community, and getting involved in the community that may not be readily visible to you.
Yang heard about UGAHacks from her older sister, who was involved in the program during her time at UGA and served as a sponsorship director for UGAHacks 5. After helping her sister with UGAHacks 5, Yang realized that her experience at the event was the first time she felt truly involved in her major and like she was a part of a larger community.
“It can be hard to find your specific place, or even feel like you have a place where you’re welcome, just being a woman in STEM,” Yang said. “… UGAHacks has really allowed me to find my community here.”
In an era of virtuality and being a minority in your field, finding and building community can be especially difficult. This is an issue that UGA Hacks is actively trying to resolve.
John’s goal for UGAHacks moving forward is to advocate for and promote the tech community at UGA. After noticing how many students feel isolated and alone, John hopes that UGAHacks can give them a platform, a voice and an interdisciplinary education outside of the classroom.
George hopes that his time spent leading UGAHacks bettered not only the computer science community within UGA but the community of Athens-Clarke County as a whole.
“Moving forward, I hope that we can reach out into the community more with projects based around donating, benefitting local businesses and fulfilling the needs of our community,” George said.
While computer science and programming are careers spent mostly alone behind computer screens, writing code or programming systems, the people who make this industry successful do not have to feel alone. UGAHacks hopes that anyone who may feel this way can join them in celebrating their shared passions and creating great things together.