Video by Nigel Shelly / Contributing Writer
Photos and story by William Green / Contributing Writer
Dozens of students from MTSU and colleges throughout the region gathered at MTSU’s Science Building Friday for the third-annual Hack-MT computing and coding challenge.
Over 200 students representing more than 10 colleges signed up for the 36-hour marathon competition. During the “hackathon,” participants are tasked with pitching ideas for apps, games and technical devices and developing a finished product that is displayed at the end of the weekend.
The event was organized by the MTSU Computer Science Department, Hack Tennessee, an organization that gathers software developers, visual designers and product managers to create new web platforms, and the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network, which promotes the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Tennessee schools.
Under faculty and industry supervision and with little sleep, students prepared to work all day and night to bring their visions to reality. Many a student even attending online coding bootcamps on various websites while at home to brush up on techniques they thought they might need for the event.
“I’ve done a few projects by myself, but nothing big like this,” said Vanessa Sarao, an MTSU senior. “My projects are me, myself and I, and I don’t have to prove anything to anybody … But now, it’s like, there are teams, and I have to work with people.”
Computers were not always a passion for Sarao, whose family moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014.
“Where I’m from, (using computers) is not really a big thing,” Sarao said. “So, when I moved here, I went to English school. That’s when I was trying to find what I wanted to do in my life. I watch a lot of movies and shows, and there were these hackers. I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ You get to do some cool stuff, make stuff and make them do what you want them to do. And then I learned about computer science, and I thought, ‘I like a challenge. I’m going to give it a shot. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t care. I’m just going to do it.’”
Her teammate, MTSU freshman Aziza Mirsaidova, a native of Uzbekistan, also discovered a passion for computer science when she arrived at MTSU. However, she wastes no time in challenging herself every chance she can get.
As a novice and first-semester freshman, Mirsaidova entered both Vanderbilt University’s hackathon, VandyHacks, and a competition organized by the MTSU branch of the national computer science professional organization, the Association for Computing Machinery.
“I was so scared,” Mirsaidova said about entering ACM’s competition. “I was in a team of three, and I was so inexperienced compared to the others on the team. They were juniors and seniors, and I was just a freshman in the first semester. I did it, and we got third place.”
When asked what draws him and the students out for such a grueling weekend, MTSU computer science Assistant Professor Joshua Phillips said, “For me, I like to be around and just see how everyone is getting invested in expanding their learning. I think it changes your perspective as a student to make sure that you’re more career-focused, which I think is important … The fact is, it’s enjoyable. Everybody who’s coming here from industry, we’re doing it because we enjoy it. We’re not just doing it for the job. So, seeing that and being a part of that helps you feel like you’re a part of a community.”
Sponsors for Hack-MT included Bondware Web Solutions, First Tennessee, CAT Financial and Jackson National Life Insurance Co.
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