Hackers of all ages will come together at HackSI’s sixth annual hackathon on Saturday.
The hackathon will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with judging on Sunday evening.
Dav Glass, HackSI founder, said to define a hackathon, you need to first define the word “hacker.”
“Most people assume that a hacker’s the bad guy that sits behind the computer with a hoodie [pulled] up over his head in the dark,” Glass said. “If you actually look it up in the dictionary, there are like three terms for hacker.”
Glass said the definition HackSI uses is “someone who is enthusiastic about computer programming.”
A hackathon is an event where hackers come together to work on projects such as webpages, robots, and apps, which are then presented at the end of the event.
“Basically, we give you 24 hours and we give you access to all kinds of really cool tech, everything from robots to drones to 3D printers, and we let you build whatever you want to come up with,” Glass said.
Glass said many hackers and computer geeks are introverts and the people around them don’t always understand what they do.
“Turns out you put a whole bunch of those introverts in a room together, and they actually build some really cool stuff,” Glass said. “Then you get them to stand up in front of other people who actually know what they’re talking about and show it off [and] it’s really good for them.”
Glass said the event typically has between 200 and 250 participants ranging in ages from six to 65.
“This year we actually are trying to tailor some of it for the younger crowd too,” Glass said.
Glass said they will have Snap Circuits, small snap-together plastic pieces with metal buttons that, when put together correctly, can light up, play music, or turn on a small motor.
“[Snap Circuits let them] learn how circuits actually work,” Glass said. “Once they know that, they can move on up the chain and actually start working with real circuits and programming them.”
Glass said something new HackSI did this year is put on tech workshops before the hackathon.
“People could come into the workshop and learn some things ahead of time, so that when they come to the event, they’re better prepared,” Glass said. “We only did two of them [this year], but next year we’re going to try to do at least six, if not more.”
Glass said the organization also visits local schools and homeschool groups to teach about technology as well.
He also coaches the robotics team at Marion High School, which is how Alex Fleming, a junior studying information systems technologies and a volunteer and participant, was introduced to HackSI.
“I joined the robotics club [at Marion] on a whim because I was told there would be real programming involved,” Fleming said. “Compared to the ‘advanced’ classes offered at the time, this was super-advanced and so it peaked my interest.”
Fleming said this was when he met Glass, who later invited the team to participate in HackSI.
“HackSI has offered access to hardware, open source and other software knowledge, programming, and a community of geeks, which is what helped me find my way into technology,” Fleming said.
Fleming now works for one of HackSI’s sponsors, a local tech company called Liaison.
‘The first time I ever heard of Liaison was at my first HackSI in 2015,” Fleming said. “At that time, I was primarily skilled in only graphic design.”
Fleming said during following events, he attempted more ambitious projects and presented them, along with what he had learned about virtual reality technology, machine learning, and drones.
“Combine that with 2 years of college, lots of self-teaching along the way, and building my own hacker reputation, applying for a tech job became much easier than it originally would have been,” Fleming said.
Fleming said he is very grateful for HackSI and its community and sponsors because without HackSI, he probably would not have gone to college and missed lots of opportunities and friendships, and would not be where he is today.
“Coming from a low-income family, most of this [tech education] is not freely available,” Fleming said. “Local high school tech education was/still is significantly behind.”
Chris Chrum, another participant, said he has been participating in HackSI since the beginning. He heard about it on the news and was interested in the technology.
“HackSI is a huge community of hackers, programmers, 3D printers, all kinds of colorful people in this community,” Chrum said. “Having all those resources in one room is pretty fantastic.”
Chrum said if you come to HackSI and don’t know anything about something like programming, you can go talk to someone at the event who is really good at programming and learn from them.
“You can go to school and you can learn all this stuff, but that takes time, money and effort,” Chrum said. “Or you can actually sit down for eight hours a day for two days and just talk to a person who knows all this stuff.”
Chrum said in his second year participating, he and a friend worked on a project that ended up winning the competition.
He said their project used a headset from a Star Wars force trainer toy to turn on lights.
“When you wear the headset, you will focus and it would use an infrared blaster, basically the same thing that’s in a remote controller for your TV,” Chrum said.
He said the lights would catch the signal and then light up according to how hard you are concentrating.
“We were actually really nervous, [because] we didn’t think we were going to finish,” Chrum said. “We literally finished it five to ten minutes prior to judging.”
Chrum said when he was trying to demonstrate the project, he was having trouble focusing enough to turn on the lights.
“Then Dav Glass actually walked over, put the headset on, and just lit it up in a second,” Chrum said. “He used our hack better than the hackers who made it. It was crazy.”
This event is free and open to people of all ages and technological abilities. Participants are asked to register beforehand at https://hacksi.org/ in order to receive a t-shirt and swag bag.