VCU School of Engineering to host hackathon

vcu-logoVirginia Commonwealth University is hosting its first hackathon, in which 200 students from VCU and a number of other schools will spend 24 hours developing software and hardware applications to compete for prizes and show off their programming skills and creativity.

The 24-hour programming marathon, RamHacks, is being organized by the Department of Computer Science in the School of Engineering, and the VCU student organization RAM-Development. It will be held on Nov. 8-9 in the School of Engineering’s East Hall atrium.

The event comes in the wake of a string of strong showings at hackathons by VCU computer science students, including a team of three students who won $10,000 for building an innovative mobile app at the Dreamforce hackathon in San Francisco in early October.

Several companies are sponsoring RamHacks, and will propose problems for the student teams to solve with their innovations. Among the sponsors are the Richmond-based technology firms amc Technology and Royall & Company.

“My hopes are that we have a very diverse group of sponsors, challenges, tech talks and discussions that can spark the participants’ ideas and desire to learn, while creating an exciting and eventful hackathon that gives more to the students participating than just some monetary prizes at the end,” said Mark Kolev, a senior computer science major and one of RamHacks’ organizers.

Kolev said he hopes the hackathon will become an annual or biannual event hosted by VCU for years to come.

Krzysztof Cios, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, said the event is an excellent opportunity for creative programmers and hackers to come together to build something together.

It is also a chance, he said, for students to gain valuable real-world programming experience in support of the private sector.

“The concept is wide open,” he said. “The sponsor companies can specify the problems for the students to work on — like maybe a mobile application that is of interest to the company. Companies are interested in hackers, young minds, students to generate ideas. And then the company can take it and do something with it.”

Hackathons, Cios added, allow creative student programmers to hone their skills and show they can solve tricky problems.

“Companies are looking for students with this kind of experience, because it’s extracurricular and it shows that you can put together [an application] that has value for businesses,” he said.

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