By Nick BeJeaux
“What I wanted to create was limited by my imagination.”
When you hear the word “hacker,” you may envision thieves and criminals like Raphael Gray, or that terrible 1995 cyberpunk thriller that famously showed Angelina Jolie’s boobs. What you may not realize is that hackers are usually not malevolent computer demons and are actually in high demand by the tech industry for their creativity and know-how.
Geaux Hack, held over the weekend, was the first 24-hour hackathon in Louisiana and provided a healthy competition, opportunities and fellowship for college and high school students who belong to this misunderstood community. The 24 hours of coding and hacking was spent in Coates Hall from 11 a.m. on Aug. 30 to 11 a.m. on Aug. 31.
Orchestrated by the Society of Peer Mentors, Geaux Hack started out as the brainchild of SPM member Howard Wang. Wang attended a similar Hackathon at MIT last year and when he came back to LSU, his enthusiasm became infectious.
“It was everything I hoped for and more. It really reminded me why I want to be a computer science student in the first place,” said Wang. “I could create anything I wanted without the constraints of materials and tools like other engineering majors. What I wanted to create was limited by my imagination. When I came back from HackMIT and looked for more hackathons to attend what I realized is that there are so few and far in between in the South. So I went to a organization at LSU called Society of Peer Mentors to share my experience at HackMIT.”
In discussions for bringing a hackathon to LSU with the SPM, Wang met Samantha Fadrigalan, who would become Geaux Hack’s co-founder. Along with Andrew Griffin (Industrial Engineering Major), Morgan Hargrove(LSU ACM former-president), Jacob Cook (LSU IEEE president), Ross Miller (Mechanical Engineering) and the encouragement of faculty advisor Summer Dan, the project grew and grew until dozens of students showed up on that fateful weekend. Don’t worry – hey weren’t organizing Denial of Service attacks, cleaning out bank accounts, or fooling with traffic lights. In fact, after splitting into groups the students began developing their own apps or programs, much like and industry research and development department.
“I think the media and news in general have changed the word ‘hacking;’ it didn’t start out as a negative word and was actually a very neutral word,” said Wang. “People started to associate hacking with breaking into computer systems, but what’s going on this weekend is not that. What they are doing is using their imagination to create things they like. It’s really just about creating anything you want with just your imagination.”
To get the event off the ground, the group of student in charge of organizing the Hackathon approach out-of-state and local sponsors.
The reaction by local sponsors (such as The Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, Champion Technology Services, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield) was unexpected but not unwelcome. To name a few, energy, medical and manufacturing industries around the world – including Louisiana – are relying more and more on computer automation to function. But the people with the skills to write the programming scripts that run machines and protect them from malicious cyber attacks (essentially, hackers) are in short supply and high demand.
“What we found is that our local sponsors have been waiting for a long time for an event like this,” said Fadrigalan. “I did not see this coming, how big this event was going to be. This is only the first one, so we want to make it bigger every year, even after we graduate. We’re going to make it easy for future students to transition in and seamlessly run future hackathons.”