Coding from afar: Hackabull virtually reaches new participants 

Due to the constraints of the pandemic, Hackabull has moved entirely online but is ready for students to create and present projects that can benefit society. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Many USF events are having trouble transitioning online, but Hackabull participants from all over the world feel right at home on their computers as they work to create projects exhibiting their skill with code in 24 hours.

Hackabull is a competition based at USF where people with various levels of coding experience work together in teams to create technological projects focused on solving a problem that they perceive in the world, participate in workshops and win technology and swag packs from sponsors. 

The free 24-hour event will take place virtually March 13-14 starting at noon. Although USF is hosting it, students from any university can participate, according to Hackabull Director Axel Rivera, a senior computer science major. Students can register on the Hackabull website.  

“[Hackabull is] an event where people get together,” Rivera said. “You can code whatever you want, a website, a mobile app, you just come up with a product and you kind of just design it and you present it. The beauty about them is that they’re really inclusive, they’re not only for computer science or computer engineering majors or people with coding experience.”

During Hackabull, the goal of each student or team is to come up with an idea that will “benefit society,” according to Rivera, and then create the technology within the 24-hour period. 

“For example, one project I can think of that actually won a hackathon would be one that implemented a camera feature and an AI system to [find] if students are active and paying attention in classes,” he said. “So, that had multiple components to it that had a front-end user experience but also a database to keep track of different users. It was a way to really test engagement while using different APIs [app programming interfaces].” 

He has also seen a project that translated American Sign Language into closed captioning in real time and another that created a database of fires and could be updated in real time by citizens for firefighters to work with. 

The event is free to students and typically brings in about 200-300 people who range from beginners to very experienced coders. Registration for this year’s event is still open, but the Hackabull team is expecting higher numbers because of the competition’s easier accessibility for students from other states and countries. 

Students typically participate in teams of three or four, according to Rivera, but others prefer to work alone to code their technology. 

“Usually, whenever you go to a hackathon, you have your group set up beforehand,” Rivera said. “If you don’t have a group, if you go to Hackabull, we’re going to be having a team-building session so we can assign you to a team.”

Most hackers will stay awake for the full 24 hours to complete their projects, and then they have some designated time to present them to the judges and other groups, according to Rivera. 

“It’s a team setting, so everyone gets to really talk about what they contributed to the project,” Rivera said. “After judging each one, participants get a little demo sticker to say that they participated in the hackathon, and then judges categorize and rank each project, then prizes are given.”

There are many different categories for students to win in. Rivera said they always have a first, second and third prize in each category, but this year they also expect to have prizes for categories like “Best First-Time Hacker” and “Funniest or Most Creative Project.” Sponsors provide the prizes, according to Rivera, which normally consist of cool tech or “swag packs” for the winners. 

The main event of the day is creating the projects, but many students will also partake in workshops to learn about different coding methods, skills and technologies. 

Lavaugh Brown, a senior computer science major and head of marketing for Hackabull, said that the event is competitive, but the goal of Hackabull and the workshops within it is to help students learn new skills and grow as hackers. 

“I think that’s the main point that we want to try to get out of the workshops for Hackabull, whether that be learning a new technical skill and increasing your professional development to learning to engage in a team setting for a technical project, we hope students grow from their Hackabull experience,” he said. 

The event is free to students because it is sponsored by the same companies that host some of the workshops including Accenture, Stickermule, Courier and the Major Hacking League, which is the overarching sponsor for all hackathon events. The other workshops are hosted by students or other interested individuals, according to Rivera. 

“Some of the sponsors might host workshops either on some of the APIs or technologies that they’re going to be promoting at the hackathon or they’ll just have generic info sessions about the sponsor,” he said. 

“There’s also some that are student led and some that are organizations led, and we also have a forum, it’s open pretty much to anyone at USF that wants to host a technical workshop.”

While this will be Hackabull’s fourth annual event, coronavirus restrictions have made this year a little different, according to Rivera. The event has always been open to students from all over, but normally students would have to come to the Tampa campus to participate so international and out of state participants were rare. 

“This year, since it’s a virtual platform, we’ve had a lot of international students register,” he said. “So we have a lot of people from USF. We’ve had a couple of people from the United States, but outside of Florida. We’ve had people from India, … [United Arab Emirates], … Oman. We had, I think, someone from the UK who’s trying to go.” 

While Hackabull is different in format this year, the team running the event is working to make it more inclusive and wants people of all types of backgrounds to register in efforts to create beneficial projects and hone hacking skills. 

“We’d love to see people coming from not only computer science and computer engineering backgrounds, but we want to make sure that everyone’s welcome,” Rivera said. 

“No matter what your skill set is, there’s always going to be some workshop you can learn something from and apply it to your project no matter how far along in coding you are.”