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Computer Club holds first ‘hack-a-thon’

December 1, 2016

Strange as it may sound, computer hacking is not necessarily a bad thing.

Merriam-Webster does list one definition of hacking as “to gain access to a computer illegally,” but it can also mean building, as in “hacking together a project,” explained Ivy Oeltjenbruns, a sophomore cyber operations major from Hartford, S.D.

Oeltjenbruns is a board member on the Dakota State University Computer Club, which held their first-ever “hack-a-thon” on Nov. 28.

“The goal of this competition is to create zany, wacky, and/or weird projects,” which “can literally be anything,” said the computer club’s invitation for the event. The only stipulation was no previous planning; students had just 45 minutes to produce and submit projects.

Mike Shlanta, Ryan Hermann, Andrew Kramer posed for a photo while waiting for DSU Computer Club team members to hack together projects in the club’s first-ever Hack-a-thon.With that short of a time frame, the three judges were not looking for perfection, said judge Mike Shlanta, but creativity, and basics such as language and operating system choice, added judge Ryan Hermann. Shlanta is a senior cyber operations major from Sioux Falls, S.D., Hermann is a cyber ops graduate student from Elgin, IL.

Hack-a-thons have been taking place since the 70s and 80s, said board member Joshua Klosterman, from Brandon, S.D. That was back “when it was just having fun with computers.”

Now hack-a-thons are common, and serve a variety of purposes. In Silicon Valley, for example, they are a way for businesses to earn start-up funding, he said. 

There was some prize money awarded in the computer club’s event, but the main purpose was “to see what the students can produce in 45 minutes,” said Computer Club board member Jacob Williams, a junior cyber operations major from Parker.

The event also provided an educational component, “a chance to learn in a relaxed environment,” added Oeltjenbruns.

One of the things learned was programming skills, Hermann said. Williams added that learning how to work under pressure is a skill the students will use in their jobs.

The projects can also help the students get those jobs. Andrew Kramer, a cyber operations graduate student who also judged, said the projects will be “a valuable outcome for résumé building,” something that will set the student apart in an interview, to be able to say “I built something cool.” Kramer is from Etna, CA.

Dr. Tom Halverson, Computer Club advisor, said the group does something every week, either a presentation or games. The hack-a-thon was more of a social event, “a fun thing.”

Some of the students took that fun to the bank with prize money. Trent Steen took first place, winning $100 for his program called “No More Times.”