Get ready hackers one and all, to hack to your heart’s content for a 37-hour hackathon this November. And no, that doesn’t mean breaking into the university’s financial and security systems. The Electric City Hacks (ECH) is the group that runs this annual event, where people come together and work creatively on a variety of tech projects that aim to solve problems in a new and ingenious way.
After an inaugural year as an unfunded group, the founders of ECH sought and acquired levy funding in 2016. This was to rely less heavily on sponsorships and also allowed the group to provide food to participants, give out prizes, and provide transportation to attendees who live farther away.
“While we’re about getting people from all across Ontario to come to the event, the main goal when my brother started this group was to have it for Trent students,” said former director Nick Barnes. “Instead of having to go to tech hotspots like Toronto or Waterloo, students can just walk over to the Student Centre and jump in. We actually bus people in from Toronto!”
And into what, more specifically, would one be jumping into if they attended this event? The range can be quite broad, as both software and hardware are used. Past projects have been as diverse as environmental data scanners, automatic sandwich makers, VR games, and sign language translators. However, despite the focus on electronics, Barnes emphasizes the human connection component: “It promotes a really cooperative and collaborative environment, and you can make meaningful connections.”
The connections made at this event can be made between both the other hackers who team up for projects, as well as the sponsors who remain an integral part of the event. This allows not only for the access to tech which may otherwise be unavailable to students, but also for future employers to see potential candidates “doing their thing” as it were, in a situation more akin to the workplace.
So far, ECH has been sponsored by the likes of Major League Hacking (who also acts as an ongoing facilitator), TD Canada Trust, FreshBooks, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Peterborough Agricultural Society. Barnes sees the inclusion of these big-time sponsors as instrumental to the success of the event, as it helps to ostensibly “legitimize” it and put it on the map, more so than the participation of only local organizations would.
All of this may seem daunting for someone with a budding interest in hacking with little to no experience. However, Barnes assures that students of any discipline are more than welcome to participate, and projects don’t have to be revolutionary to be included.
“Even if you just need mentorship on setting up your own website, or learning a computer language, there are people who will help you with that. It doesn’t have to be some crazy project!”
Unlike most levy groups that tend to operate in some capacity over the course of the entire academic year, ECH is effectively a one-off event. Outside of their 37-hour hackathon, there isn’t much to be said for them. However, planning and scheduling are so extensive that the organizers spend up to the preceding five months getting things ready.
“We have to be on these sponsors immediately… they have their own budgets, and we have to get at them at the right time for them to be able to promise us a portion of those budgets,” explained Barnes.
Unfortunately for those unable to save the date, this tight budget means that the chance of the group holding a second annual event is slim to none, especially given that with current levy funding it would be a financial stretch. In the event of a drop in levy funds, seeking and securing additional sponsorship would most likely be necessary for ECH to survive.