Grab your toothbrush and your laptop: It’s HackPSU reloaded.
Both items are recommended by the 24-hour hack-a-thon, an ongoing social feed of educational workshops, giant Jenga games and hacking till dawn. Now going on its fifth year, the collaborative programming competition will test participants’ creative mettle — besides their ability to fend off sleep — Saturday through Sunday. Registration begins at 10 a.m. on day one.
It’s a slumber party for autodidacts, auteurs and amateurs alike. The air mattresses — about 75 of them — get rolled out Saturday night. Sleeping over isn’t required, but the conveyor-like rounds of free food argue otherwise.
“It’s not just programming the entire time,” said Smith Sopp, HackPSU’s director and a junior computer engineering major, “and if you do want to sleep over, it’s possible.”
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Held twice a year, the event had more than 600 attendees in the fall. This spring’s hack-a-thon expects about 550 come to the Penn State Business Building Saturday through Sunday. As with the fall event, students from several surrounding colleges are scheduled to attend.
Past sponsors have included Microsoft, Weebly and IBM. The newest slate — including Capital One, Optum, Unity and more — will levy 12 challenges, covering everything from finding virtual-reality solutions to a hack for the health care industry. Prizes await the winning teams, which can be up to five members.
Yet education is a focus of this year’s event, Sopp said. There will be a record 16 educational workshops going on throughout the weekend.
So it’s not just for the pros.
“There’s a place for everyone here,” he said. “More than anything else, it’s an opportunity to learn something new.”
Sopp, for instance, remembers his first HackPSU. Then a freshman, he and his teammates designed an app to streamline communication among clubs at Penn State. But like many initially promising ideas, theirs foundered before it gained traction.
“It was pretty terrible,” he said, laughing. “I was pretty bad at programming at the time, so I didn’t know what I was doing. I was kind of the pep morale guy.”
But that was two years ago. Several hack-a-thons later, he said, he’s learned a thing or two. The enthusiasm, meanwhile, has remained intact.
On Saturday and Sunday, he’ll play conductor for the university’s premier hack-a-thon event.
“More than anything I want to stress how it’s available to anyone,” he said. “You can come here with no experience, find a spot, find a team and have a great weekend.”