Nearly 500 students from across CUNY will converge on Baruch College later this month for the fourth CUNY Hackathon, a weekend of digital brainstorming, tech teamwork and career development guided by mentors from some of the world’s most important tech companies. The hackathon is co-sponsored by IBM and Google.
“Our students need to understand and be comfortable in an environment increasingly driven by technology, no matter what kind of work they plan to do,” said CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken. “Preparing CUNY graduates for the 21st century knowledge economy is among our highest priorities. There are many ways we’re doing this, and activities such as the CUNY Hackathon, which has become one of our most successful and popular events in our broad efforts in recent years, are key. It’s an effective and exciting way to connect our future graduates with mentors and companies at the leading edge of tech in New York City.”
Hackathons are gatherings where computer programmers and developers collaborate intensively on software projects. The CUNY Hackathon is a twice-a-year event that is equal parts experiential learning, competition, networking — and overnighter. It’s staged by CUNY Startups, an initiative begun in 2014 to encourage students to pursue careers in technology and to launch a new generation of innovative companies in the city. The hackathons are a partnership between CUNY Startups and the Lawrence N. Field Center at Baruch College.
The Spring 2018 CUNY Hackathon, scheduled for April 27-29 in the Newman Library computer lab at Baruch, is the first to be held on a CUNY campus. The theme is “Hack Gotham: Become the superhero that NYC needs!” Participants will form teams and put their heads together to come up with ideas for applications that could be used to improve daily life for New Yorkers.
“About 70 percent of the students who register are beginners with little or no experience in coding or development,” said Faith Fraser, acting director of CUNY Startups. “So we make sure it’s inviting, not intimidating. We start with workshops where they can learn basics on the spot. They can come in having never written one line of code, and over the course of three days they can actually build something. CUNY students are smart and they’re hungry — they’re not afraid to put themselves out there— so we’re always fully booked.”
Students are mentored by experts from the co-sponsoring companies IBM and Google, and from other leading tech companies in New York. To assist with the “Hack Gotham” theme, CUNY Startups has also enlisted the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, which will provide data and teach a workshop to help the students learn how to use open data provided by the city and inspire ideas for apps.
There are prizes for the best ideas and sharpest coding, but according to the organizers and sponsors, it’s less about the outcomes than the experiences.
“We’re working with some of the most amazing tech companies and people,” Fraser said. “Their presence and guidance not only make it a memorable event for students and provides them with an invaluable networking opportunity, but they also teach them about the latest technology. We think it’s important for students to know what these companies are using right now so that once they graduate, they’re equipped with the tools they need to get a job and succeed here in New York City.”
One of the hackathon mentors is CUNY grad Raymond Blum, who is now an engineering manager for Google in New York. Blum said, “The hackathon is an amazing way for students to get real-world experience in a couple of days. It’s a rare opportunity to see a microcosm of what a tech business does, to find out what parts are appealing to you, what parts aren’t, and to find your thing.”
Another mentor, Remko de Knikker, a senior software engineer at IBM, said the hackathons are not just about the technology. “It’s about working with people on a solution; it’s about improvising. The competition and the outcomes are not what matter as much as the learning experience, how you personally grow from it.”
The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 23 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies. For more information, visit www.cuny.edu.