HackIllinois Draws More Than 1,100 To Weekend Focused On Open-Source Challenges
More than 1,100 students from the University of Illinois and beyond – far beyond – spent Feb. 23-25 working a wide range of problems as part of the most recent edition of HackIllinois.
For the second straight year the Illinois Computer Science hackathon – known as one of the biggest and best in the country – focused on the open-source community.
That meant busing in students from several universities in Chicago and as far away as Georgia Tech and the University of Florida, as well as flying in more than 50 mentors from as far away as Brazil, all of them known for their open-source contributions.
“We weren’t really looking for specific types of people. It was just, hey, you are really good at this, come here and help people with this,” said Yasha Mostofi, a junior Computer Science major and HackIllinois co-director along with Kevin Hong.
For example, one of the mentors is a Microsoft engineer who is also a regular contributor to a Linux-based open-source project, Apache Mesos, he uses as part of his day job, said Mostofi.
The group he worked with at HackIllinois tackled a project based on a real-world need related to his use of Apache Mesos.
“Every day when he uses it, there was an incompatibility, so he would spend 15 to 20 minutes running a VM and going through some extra process so he could run this project,” Mostofi said. “So he guided his students to make the project compatible with Windows and saving 15 or 20 minutes a day, which is really, really cool.”
That project was one of the weekend’s three winners. The others were a project known as Puppeteer Istanbul that built a tool to show how much of the code the user is writing is being tested correctly, and React Native emoji-input, which built an open-source emoji keyboard for the app-building tool React Native.
About 30 companies were also on hand, providing additional mentors and opportunities to for students to interact with industry pros. Mostofi said he’s also grateful for the support HackIllinois receives from the campus, working with staff members such as Associate Director for External Relations C.J. Coleman.
“We get an extreme amount of support,” he said. “Just thinking about that and the level of trust and the relationship we have, it’s amazing.”
With the end of the mostly sleepless, caffeine-fueled weekend behind them, HackIllinois’ organizers are already looking ahead to 2019. They don’t yet know exactly what they’ll do, but Mostofi says they won’t just run a repeat of 2018.
“One thing I would hate to see is us getting into this regular rhythm where it’s the same thing over and over.”