AppHack event to span full 24 hours at Appalachian

Lovey Cooper

Friday, from 7 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, about 80 students are expected to gather in Belk Hall’s new computer science offices to write code, eat pizza and play games, in hopes of winning AppHack4, a Major League Hacking-sponsored event.

“The atmosphere is very open and relaxed. You will see groups of people huddled around whiteboards brainstorming, people bent over computers hacking away and some people just hanging out or playing games,” said David Kale, computer science graduate student. “Regardless, everyone has always been really open to share what they are working on or interested in seeing what you are working on.”

The event will be the first at Appalachian State University to last the full 24 hours required by MLH events, although it is the fifth hosted by the computer science department – the “4” in the title includes the events with zero-indexing, as a nod to the scientists.

The events have been slowly changing for the better as more interest is generated and more things happen at each event, Kale said.

“I have always found these events as effective spaces to work on projects and school work, but also fun social events,” he said.

At the last event, he worked with two other students on a program to download and visually summarize YouTube videos. The development finds the most important 10 or so frames from the video to give viewers an idea of what it is about.

“There are so many new technologies to learn in our field that it is impossible not to be exposed to something new at an event like this,” Kale said.
Sina Tashakkori, computer science graduate student, created AppHack and serves as the organizer of events this year. He started the event a year and a half ago because he wanted to expand his own unofficial “hack-sessions” that were referred to as “SedEx.”

“We would just get together, me and some friends, and I decided I wanted it to be bigger,” Tashakkori said.

He hopes this year’s event brings more people into the department, as it is now completely funded by sponsors and includes participants from other universities, as well as local software companies.

“These companies see the value in AppHack, in terms of recruiting,” Tashakkori said. “They can come over here and have the opportunity to meet really talented people, instead of wasting their time doing interviews. They know who can build because they can see them building.”

Many of the products that are made here are immediately used in the community – BeepDrive, Slippy Snake and other open source pieces of software have emerged from previous years. Some departments at the university will use the event as a way to put a bid out on an application they might have use for in the future, with a guaranteed result by the end of the semester if a student picks it up as a class project. Participants are free to make anything without restriction as long as they have not completed any work on it before the 24-hour event begins.

One year, a student created a functional iPhone app for the school of music to help in teaching and practicing notes and scales.

Winners of the event are chosen in an informal hour-long session, based on the usability and emotional appeal of a final product – no matter the kind of work that went into it.

“It’s the cool factor, which is not really quantifiable, but it usually ends up that the harder stuff that the people put more time and creativity into are the ones that win,” Tashakkori said.

Senior computer science major Chris Waldon has coordinated Dungeons and Dragons games for the last two AppHacks, and intends to do the same for this one.

“These serve as opportunities for students to inspire each other,” Waldon said. “Though I haven’t been programming at most of them, I come away from the experience amazed at what my friends have been able to build and excited to work on my own back-burner projects. These events cement a sense of community within the department as a whole, a phenomenon that I haven’t encountered outside of CS thus far.”

Winners get 3D printed trophies as well as medals provided by MLH, and there are raffle prizes available even for those who cannot contribute to the final product of a team.

Tashakkori is looking for people to take over the event when he graduates in May, and hopes that more departments will come join in. Right now the schools of graphic design, industrial design and business show up, but he wants to expand this collaboration to include the entire university.

“Everyone needs software made, and everyone can learn from working with software developers because they are probably going to at some point in their career,” Tashakkori said. “It’s the future, so we would like to start that now.”

Participants do not need any knowledge of coding, design or mobile applications to take part. For more information, visit the website.

Story: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter