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HackIllinois 2015 Hits the Ground Running

8/13/2015 1:20:00 PM Tom Moone, CS @ ILLINOIS

The weekend of February 27 - March 1 saw nearly a thousand students from across the country come to Urbana-Champaign to work long hours to create innovative technology. And to have fun.

HackIllinois logo
HackIllinois logo

HackIllinois 2015 promised to build on the success of last year’s inaugural event to create a memorable and intellectually stimulating experience.

Keeping what worked from last year—which was, frankly, almost everything—the leaders of the 2015 HackIllinois wanted to continue to make the event even better.

“We want to maintain the quality of our event,” said CS senior Nathan Handler, who is co-directing the event with CS sophomore Nick Kortendick. “We know we can grow, but we don’t want to overdo it.”

Nathan Handler (left) is co-director of the 2015 HackIllinois.
Nathan Handler (left) is co-director of the 2015 HackIllinois.

One change was to have the final presentation of projects as a showcase that the entire community can take part in.

All the teams took their final projects to the Illini Union on the Sunday (March 1) for an expo open to the public from noon until 3:00 p.m. The first two hours were similar to Engineering Open House, in which the public could talk to the teams about their projects and see the innovations that have taken place. Winners were announced at a program during the final hour of the event.

Because participants last year had such a positive experience, this year's event had increased popularity and attendance. Last year, 750 students from 21 campuses in the Midwest attended the weekend-long event. This year, over 2500 applications were received for the event. Space limitations meant that just slightly over 1000 could be accepted. Of that, approximately 900 were expected to show up.

HackIllinois expected nearly 900 participants from schools across the country and Canada to arrive for the weekend of innovation.
HackIllinois expected nearly 900 participants from schools across the country and Canada to arrive for the weekend of innovation.

The new ECE Building joined Siebel Center as a venue for HackIllinois. “Having this new building available is what really allowed us to grow the event,” said Handler.

During the weekend, there were two keynote speakers. Greg Baugues, a former CS @ ILLINLOIS student and currently a developer evangelist at Twilio, gave a talk titled “Developers and Depression.” This is a repeat of a talk he gave in Siebel Center last fall. “That was a great talk,” said Handler. “We want to be able to give it to a wider audience.”

The other speaker was Jay Freeman, creator of the Cydia application suite.

There were other activities planned to help attendees take a break from intense, concentrated coding. They had an opportunity to tour the Blue Waters petascale computing facility. In addition, last year’s popular Nerf wars returned, as well as a photo booth for participants to remember their time at the University of Illinois.

HackIllinois started on Friday, February 27, with check-in at Siebel Center at 4 p.m. A sponsorship Fair took place from 5 to 7. The opening ceremony was at the Illini Union, and actual hacking will take place starting at 10 p.m.

One of the final events for HackIllinois 2015 was an expo of all projects held in the Illini Union.
One of the final events for HackIllinois 2015 was an expo of all projects held in the Illini Union.

Last year’s hackathon included primarily schools from around the Midwest. Now in its second year, the geographic spread of participants was a bit larger. Participants came from schools as far away as the University of Waterloo and Georgia Tech University.

HackIllinois of course relies on volunteers to make the event a success. Fifty core volunteers had been working since the beginning of the school year to get the event off the ground and to prepare the logistics for the event. Over 200 additional volunteers helped out during the event weekend.

“We couldn’t make it without the volunteers,” said Handler. “We laid the groundwork, but they are the ones who really help us pull off a world-class event.”

Information on the projects from this year's HackIllinois, including the winning projects, can be found at the HackIllinois Challenge Post page. More photos from the event are availabe on the HackIllinois Facebook page.