Inside HackIllinois Part I: History

This article was created by a Technology Services student employee. Our student employees attend, engage, and report on campus events that feature technology. Students provide a unique perspective on how innovations in technology affect campus life.

By Kumaran Chanthrakumar, Computer Science '19

The Engineering side of campus may be elusive to those who are not within the College of Engineering. They say birds take a detour around the Engineering quad because they’re afraid of being hit with quadcopters. There are even two options for potential Illinois students who want a tour: the Quad tour and the Engineering campus tour. This divide has been present for a long time, and my CS roommate still hasn’t been on the main quad yet….

Starting February 19th, students from all academic backgrounds can come together to break this divide at HackIllinois.

HackIllinois is a hackathon, where college “hackers” from around the country spend three days working in groups or by themselves to build a project. The top projects (mobile apps, web apps, hardware projects, etc.) win prizes sponsored by companies like Google, IBM, and Facebook.  

It started just two years ago, when a CS student brought along some volunteers to kickstart Illinois’ first hackathon. Because of our reputation as a computer science school, we’ve drawn in students from around the country to hack within Engineering campus.

HackIllinois is a yearly event, with each year having its own upgrades from the last. Prior HackIllinois events included guest speakers from top companies around the world, a career fair with recruiters from Microsoft, Apple, and more big companies, and a lot (and I mean a lot) of free food and swag.  There are at least a dozen prizes for the top projects, and more than enough room to meet new people.

All Are Welcome

It might not make sense to attend with no prior knowledge of programming or electrical engineering or any of that fancy stuff. But the reason why someone without those technical skills should attend is that HackIllinois isn’t a competition in its truest definition. Yeah, there are cash prizes for the top projects, but that’s only a small part of what HackIllinois really is.

To begin with, here are the core beliefs listed on the HackIllinois website:

At HackIllinois, we believe in three core values:

  • Encouraging students to explore their creativity

  • Empowering students to create meaningful additions to the field of technology

  • Building a community of peers and mentors

HackIllinois is a learning experience, a pool of smart minds from all backgrounds working together to build something cool for themselves. You can have no experience, but still meet people and join a group and serve an important role in building something.

HackIllinois has tech talks given by people that are extremely renowned and these talks are geared toward those with no prior experience on the topic.  For example, there are three different talks scheduled for this year’s HackIllinois, one of which is the Deputy Director of Instruction at Girls Who Code.  Prior years’ talks have been given by people like Jay Freeman, a famous open source hacker, who will be present at this year’s hackathon as well.

HackIllinois is unlike other competitions in that the one huge underlying goal is to learn. The second goal is to meet new people who will help you learn even more.. (Also, eating as much free food as possible is also important.)

The opening ceremony will be at the Illini Union, so even if you’re still hesitant about crossing the Engineering barrier, at least attend that to get a better perspective of what’s in store for you if you do end up being part of the hackathon.

Here’s the Facebook page for the event.

And here’s the website with a full schedule and a detailed description of the hackathon.

As a current computer science student, I’m getting as involved as possible with HackIllinois.  I probably won’t be participating in the event itself though, as it is my duty to cover the entirety of the event for my readers: *places hand softly over my heart* Instead, I am part of the setup crew that has been putting in a lot of effort over the past few months trying to make this year’s HackIllinois the best it can be.   

I’ll be covering every inch of HackIllinois, so stay tuned for an article in the coming week describing in full detail what it’s like to be involved in making HackIllinois!