Comets gather for largest hackathon in Texas

Graphic By Oluwaseun Adeyemi | Mercury Staff


HackUTD returned to ECSW on Nov. 4 for the competition’s 10th installment

HackUTD is a weekend-long event where participants are given different challenges to solve by expressing themselves through technology. The 2023 hackathon included 1,001 people from 18 different countries. The total pool of prize money was $62,000, the largest amount HackUTD has distributed so far.

Computer science graduate student Michael Zhao joined the team in February 2022 as an organizer and is now the director of HackUTD. He participated in the eighth iterationa of HackUTD and won first place, which made him want to contribute to organizing the competition. He said that the hackathon allows students to build real-life experience in software engineering beyond courses and books.

“I think hackathons are one of the best ways to get those personal projects, get some achievements,” Zhao said.“Under your belts in your own time. And it shows that you’re interested in doing this sort of stuff, and you’re willing to go do it on your own.”

Kari Groszewska is a coach for Major League Hacking, or MLH, the official student hackathon league where coaches teach computer science skills to developers across the world for nine months. Groszewska discovered her love of hacking while attending Vanderbilt University and later became a hackathon organizer before joining MLH. She oversees 13 hackathons a month and said that UTD‘s competition was the largest she has ever attended. Groszewska said that UTD’s hackathon can help students’ education by supplementing it with resources from sponsors, which included Toyota, Fidelity and State Farm.

“We’ve got finance, we’ve got healthcare, we’ve got oil and gas, we’ve got natural resources … all of those different industries have their own way of contributing to technology … so it’s a good way to bridge either your passion or interest in the tech space,” Groszewska said. “As long as you have an interest in something related to what you’re doing, it’s great.”

HackUTD’s first year was in spring 2015, with only about 120 participants. Eight years later in 2023, it drew more than eight times as many. Interest has also increased locally, which Zhao said may be due to the growing tech industry in DFW.

“I think one of the big things is the fact that now Dallas has so much technology,” Zhao said. “We got tons of applications from inside UTD, and then just reached out to other schools … having a network within Texas that helps us get a ton of people from all different places.”

Now that HackUTD has successfully completed their 10th competition, they look forward to more fun projects from all fields of study; Groszewska said that basic knowledge of technology is important in every profession.

“In this world where more tech is becoming more important and more prevalent, no matter what your background is … eventually this can be a really, really good experience for you,” Groszewska said.

Zhao’s advice for future HackUTD participants who want to create a successful hack is to keep an open mind and adapt to changes, as well as view the competition as a learning experience.

“Don’t be afraid to learn new things,” Zhao said. “If there’s one place where you can try something and fail at it, it’s a hackathon.”


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