HackBeanpot event returns to Cambridge

HackBeanpot event returns to Cambridge

By: Lautaro Grinspan, news correspondent

Student programmers in Boston will get a chance to show off their skill and stamina at HackBeanpot 2016, a 40-hour immersive workshop where students learn about new technologies and work intensively on hardware and design projects of their choice.

The event, scheduled for Friday, Jan. 22 at the Cambridge Innovation Center, is chaired by an eight-member team, seven of which are Northeastern University (NU) students. Allison Alder, third-year computer science major, is the event’s president.

“Hackathons aren’t about what you know going in, but what you know coming out of the experience,” said Alder. “We go out of our way to make the event welcoming to new hackers as well as a safe place for underrepresented members of the technology community.”

She added that NU’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) used to throw ‘API hack nights’ in 2012 in the hallways of West Village H. This culminated in HackBeanpot’s first large-scale, intercollegiate overnight hackathon in January 2013. Since then, the event has extended from 24 to 40 hours of hacking and has become a nonprofit organization.

The event is designed to attract tech-savvy students looking to create tangible products, according to HackBeanpot outreach director Nick Rioux.

“When you see the word “hacker” in the media it usually means someone who is acting maliciously. But in the software world, the word has a very different meaning,” said Rioux in an email to The News. “To us, a hacker is someone who is intelligent, creative, clever and has something to show for it.”

Helping the hackers will be a group of mentors – typically former attendees or recent NU graduates – who will walk around and provide assistance when needed, Alder said.

It is difficult to place the products that come out of HackBeanpot into one neat category. Some of the projects that were produced in last year’s edition of the event include an app to help users find locally available produce, a distributed network file system that requires no local disk and a program to create customized Pokemon according to the event website.

The HackBeanpot team’s focus leading up to the 2016 event have been on inclusiveness and attracting as many non-NU students as possible, Alder said.

“This year we are focused on generating interest at schools other than Northeastern,” she said. “We reached out to 24 universities in the Boston area, as we really wanted to take advantage of the fact that we’re now an independent organization. A lot of universities don’t have their own hackathons, and we wanted to give their budding hackers a place to go.”

Although the event is free, space is limited. When 200 tickets became available online in mid-November, they were sold out in an hour and a half. There are currently over 400 students on the event’s waitlist.

Ahead of the HackBeanpot’s kick-off on Friday, first-time participants can familiarize themselves with a code of conduct on the event’s blog here as well as with a tips-and-tricks post called “Simple Advice for First Time Hackers.”

Third-year computer science and business administration major Brett Krutiansky was a HackBeanpot attendee in 2015.

“I loved attending HackBeanpot last year,” he said. “Very rarely in our busy lives do we take a moment to truly do what we want to do. Hackathons are those rare moments where I can just set time aside to code with no distractions, no stopping till the job is done.”

Photo courtesy of Nick Rioux

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