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Student hacks his way to conference

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In everyday terms, the word hacker has a negative connotation. However, for junior computer science major Kiran Dangol, the word hacker has a completely different meaning.

“Hacking is about how you can get into things and make them better. You can hack the way you live. You can hack your mechanisms of being more productive and getting better results,” Dangol said.

Two months ago, Dangol got an invitation for Hop Hacks, his first hackathon. A hackathon is a huge event where participants work endlessly for hours in hopes of creating the most innovative applications or prototypes.

Dangol drove 26 hours from Monroe to attend the invitation-only program at John Hopkins University in Maryland.

Hop Hacks is a 36-hour-long hackathon organized by Major League Hacking. The total prize amount was $11,000 and the first prize was about $1,500. The majority of the attendees were from Maryland or from surrounding states.

Before Hop Hacks, Dangol knew people like computer science sophomore Sunil Jamkatel and freshman Phuong Tam Nguyen, who were familiar with the hackathon world.

Since his freshman year, Jamkatel has attended two hackathons and one tech event, two of which were hosted by Ivy League colleges. “I attend hackathons because you get to stay awake 24 hours straight and work on something you love,” Jamkatel said.

According to Dangol, hackathons provide all the latest software and computers so that the hackers can make the best possible use of the time period. Even more, hackathons have an excellent way of providing free food and drinks so that attendees don’t have to get side-tracked from their projects.

“You would not come to a hackathon if you wanted to sleep, and they have a really good system of keeping you awake,” Dangol said. “Anything with caffeine, you will find there.”

Although hackathons are usually seen as an exclusive event for computer lovers, they accept applications from any currently enrolled student. In a recent hackathon attended by Dangol, the second prize was bagged by two non-technical majors who managed to build a chrome extension in efforts of preventing cyber harassment.

According to Dangol, hackathons normally have three or four criteria to judge hackers. These include things such as how clean the interphase looks, how complicated the product is, the presentation and the concept or social influence.

“The first hackathon that I went to, the person that I was before I went there, the person who walked out of that hackathon knows a lot about project management, software development and made me more able to work with people,” Dangol said. “The rate of growth at these events is exponential.”

Since Hop Hacks was Dangol’s first hackathon, he had to settle with creating only a prototype for a software that would help improve someone’s travel. However, two weeks ago, Dangol attended UTD Hacks at the University of Texas Dallas where he, along with his team of four hackers, managed to build an entire software prototype.

“There is really little opportunity here at ULM for prospective computer science majors, but that’s changing. That’s why you branch out and look for opportunity outside,” Dangol said.

According to Dangol, anyone thinking of attending a hackathon should consider planning ahead to manage the travel costs and team preparation. It would be helpful talking with the organizers themselves, since many of the hackathons with huge sponsors reimburse travel costs for out-of-state attendees.

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The Student News Site of University of Louisiana Monroe
Student hacks his way to conference