Texas Tech University hosted HackWes TX II

A student presents his presentation at HackWes TX II Hackathon hosted by Texas Tech Innovation HUB on March 7-8, 2020.

HackWesTX is a 24-hour hackathon that started on Saturday and will end Sunday morning in the Innovation Hub located at 3911 4th St.

The hackathon is hosted by members of Texas Tech University and provides students with the opportunity to showcase skills they may not be able to otherwise.

Shreyesh Arangath, a sophomore math and computer science major from Qatar, said he had certain expectations for HackWesTX and its participants.

“It’s a beginning to a new chapter we’re taking; we’ll probably establish HackWesTX as an organization next semester and make this a thing, like, we have to do it every semester, because we really want to push computer science here,” he said. “Computer science is the fastest-growing organization on campus, and yeah, we just want to push it as much as we can because we know a lot of people here are super talented and they deserve the recognition for their work.”

Participants were given 24 hours to complete a project based on their ideas and skills, something Arangath said will typically push people out of their comfort zones.

“That’s the whole thing,” he said, “you teach yourself how to do it, make something really cool and then show it off.”

Although many projects of this type may take months or more to complete, Arangath said the hackathon moves at a faster pace, encouraging students to think quickly and maintain motivation.

“It’s just an experience, honestly, and the companies are not looking for the end product,” he said. “They’re looking for the motivation because many teams drop out before presenting, so they want to see how far you can push and present whatever you make – it doesn’t have to be the end product, but something is better than nothing.”

Many companies attended the event such as Group NIRE, a Lubbock company with a focus on renewable energy, and Cognizant, a Fortune 200 company. Although international, national and local companies were in attendance, Arangath said the hackathon started by focusing on local companies.

“We wanted to get the Lubbock community involved a lot this time you know, just starting out, we wanted to gain their trust so next year they come, more companies are open to come here,” he said. “We have, I think next year we have like, ten companies sponsoring the event, so it’s a great way for them to find developers, too.”

Students at Tech may not be able to attend hackathons due to location, so Arangath said it was a priority to provide students with an opportunity to exercise their skills.

“We wanted to like, let the students who really wanted to build something have something to build right here, and I feel that’s what differentiates us from everyone else – everyone else is so big, but we started so small,” he said, “but we still had like, 100 people turn out, which is amazing for a second-time hackathon.”

Ahmed Bayoumi, a junior computer engineering student from Egypt and the lead logistics for the event, said the hackathon was initially started by a group from Tech in 2017 and consisted mainly of computer science students.

“We weren’t with the original, starting team,” he said. “We are a new team, brand new this semester.”

Hackathons are geared toward computer science projects, software development projects and hardware, and Bayoumi said this event provides students with the chance to showcase skills they may not be able to make others aware of otherwise.

“The computer science department is one of the most growing ones in the engineering department, so we’re really focusing on just capitalizing on that — give them that push because they, like, computer science students here in Lubbock, don’t get the chance to actually show their skills and what they learned; they don’t have hackathons like this, they don’t have opportunities,” he said. “So we really wanted to push that out there — give them the opportunity to show what they learned in class.”

Projects and challenges will be reviewed and judged Sunday morning, and the top performers have the chance to win prizes such as Air Pods, an Amazon Echo Dot and gift cards, Bayoumi said.

Stephen Cropper, a coach for Major League Hackers, an organization that helped with the event, said his organization differs from sponsors in how they interact with organizations and events.

“We actually partner with the event to give things like a hardware lab where hackers can check out hardware for use at their hacks or laptops, if they don’t have them,” he said. “We bring prizes from our partner events, we have a code of conduct that ensures that all hackers follow certain, basic rules for all hackathons, things like that, you know, just kind of helping make sure that all hackathons are treated in a similar way, some kind of standardization.”

Major League Hackers also assist organizations in the planning process, he said.

“We also have a team in the background supporting all hackers throughout the entire process of applying for sponsors or, you know, contacting sponsors, making sure the venue is secure, things like that,” Cropper said. “So, yeah, we kind of provide resources every step of the way in organizing hackathons.”

During the event, Cropper said he will check in with participants to provide encouragement and assistance.

“Day-of, we go talk to hackers, encourage them to submit their projects – that’s a really important thing to MLH, making sure that everyone, no matter whether they think their project’s good or not, or whether they’ve been successful or not, that they submit their project and show it to everybody; we want everyone to get that experience,” he said.

Although some people may only be aware of the negative connotation behind the word “hack,” Cropper said hackathons involve creativity and original work and do not revolve around harmful actions.

“Whenever I say hackathon or major league hacking, people think of like, you know, hacking into your computer and stealing your information, right?” he said, “but we really mean ‘hack’ in the more broad sense of, ‘How can we put something together, you know, hack it together with the tools that we have at our disposal and really come up with something innovative?’”

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