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Student 'hackers' compete to develop best mobile app

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 01:02



A&M students gathered for an over-night "Hack-a-thon" to develop a Windows 8 app. Contestants were judged by the uniqueness and usefulness of their apps.

“Hacking” is a term that has garnered a negative connotation due to an increased number of security breaches reported across the world. But “hacking” and “Hackathons,” such as the one A&M students participated in Friday, doesn’t involve security breaches or identity theft.

More than 160 students came together to compete at the on-campus “Hackathon,” organized by Microsoft, over the weekend to develop and program new software projects¬.

“My experience at the Hack-a-thon was simply amazing. It was 24 hours of food, drinks, games and non-stop coding,” said computer engineering graduate student Prithivi Tamilarasan.

As part of the competition, students had to build a Windows 8 App, starting Friday night until Saturday afternoon. The winners were awarded cash prizes and a lucky raffle winner was awarded a brand new Microsoft Surface.

"Being able to work with Microsoft as an undergrad is an experience that large universities like ours can provide,” said senior computer engineering major Zachary Partal. “Another benefit provided is that with events like this, students learn about mobile app development.”

Partal said computer science majors don’t get much experience with app development.

“Events like these let us learn these new technologies,” he said. “Who knows, maybe one of the students will make the next big app."

Anthony Rotoli, technical recruiter at Microsoft and chief organizer of Hackathon, said each year Hackathon organizers look at different campus events that might be of interest to students.

“Last year, we put together an organized effort to have a Hackathon for Windows Phone 7,” he said. “Inspired by the success of last year's event, we decided on doing a similar event this year."

Rotoli said the student community at A&M was one of the main reasons that an event of this scale could be organized.

"I am in charge of five universities nationwide,” Rotoli said. “I am not planning on doing a Hackathon anywhere else this year. The reason being, I trust the community that's here will embrace an event like this."

Ana Parra, senior computer science major, is a student partner with Microsoft and helped organize the event this year.

"My relationship with Microsoft started last year after getting an internship with them,” Parra said. “Anthony introduced me to the student partner program where I got to talk to many seniors and take leadership initiatives for organizing such events.”

Partal said the competition was judged by programming experts who stayed with the students through the night giving them assistance and answering questions.

“There was a lot of talent in the room,” Partal said. “We had students of all levels — from freshmen to graduate students.”

Long Mai, a developer with a company that provides IT consulting and project outsourcing to larger companies, said there was a wide range of apps, from a simple tip calculator to a program that emulated a particle simulator with gravity-based physics.

Cole Jones, a developer at Microsoft and Class of 2010, said while judging the apps, he was looking for a unique and useful functionality.

The winning apps were a color matching game, a digital synthesizer and an app that enhanced the built-in map by providing useful information along the specified route. 

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