What Do Students Learn at Hackathons?
Developing hard and soft skills while eco-innovating at Collin College
Since 1999, when the term “hackathon” was coined, exponentially increasing numbers of students and working professionals have been attending hackathons worldwide. But what is a hackathon?
Simply put, the goal of a hackathon is to produce a working prototype of something—usually software or websites, but it can be any number of things, including music and robots—in a specific period of time—usually a day. And the results can be extraordinary. Did you know Twitter and GroupMe were created in hackathons? Hackathons offer participants an opportunity to learn specific technical skills from mentors and peers while also learning other ‘softer’ skills applicable to many situations beyond the scope of the hackathon. NETSCOUT has hosted or sponsored more than 10 hackathons in the past three years.
Recently, a NETSCOUT Heart of Giving team of seven volunteers joined with eight volunteers from Collin College to support their first hackathon event at the Collin College Frisco, Texas, campus. This hackathon was part of the college’s launch of its new state-of-the-art IT Center, and the hackathon was open to high school students who are or will be taking dual credit courses at the college.
“Exposing high school students to hackathons like this inspires them and gets them interested in STEM fields such as computer science,” says NETSCOUT volunteer team captain Maniam Palanivelu, customer success operations leader, Americas. “It also teaches several other skills—such as working with new people in teams (collaboration), problem solving, presentation, time management, coding, and networking, to name a few—and helps them build their resumés for college applications and future internships.”
Gregory Newman, associate dean at Collin College, opened the hackathon and was followed by Palanivelu, who presented the participating students with an introduction to NETSCOUT. The theme, climate change, was announced the day of the event, and students were further motivated and inspired by a presentation from industry expert and Ph.D. candidate Kelly Longfellow, from the Dallas chapter of The Climate Reality Project. Her talk covered several aspects and impacts of climate change, which helped the students pick the problems they were passionate about solving.
Eight teams of students had 12 hours to complete the challenge by building a functional website or application illustrating a problem caused by climate change and demonstrating a solution. Finished projects addressed topics including recycling, personal green goals tracking, energy savings, water conservation, and the 3three Rs—reduce, reuse, and recycle.
The team for the winning project, Compostify, described their entry this way: “Our mission is to combat climate change through composting, which is the recycling of organic matter that can be used to grow plants. Composting reduces climate change in two main ways. Firstly, it promotes plant growth, which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, thus helping to lower the sheet of greenhouse gases surrounding the earth. Secondly, it repurposes organic matter that usually goes to landfills and accumulates even more greenhouse gases like methane.”
Pictured: Ping Hao, Gary Chen, Maniam Palanivelu, Vince Huston, Isidoro (Lolo) Pulido, Srinivas Vishnubhotla. Not pictured: Dinesh Ramakrishnan
In addition to providing prizes, assistance, and mentorship to the Collin College volunteers, judges and, students, the NETSCOUT team earned a $2,500 grant to Collin County Community College District Foundation as part of the Heart of Giving team volunteer program. Karen McCloskey, NETSCOUT director of internal communications and corporate philanthropy, noted, “The Heart of Giving program is a unique way for employees around the world to directly engage with organizations in their own communities to plan and deliver meaningful volunteer service. Engaging with our communities is an important part of our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, and we are proud to support our employees with this program.”
Read an interview with two of the winning team: Junior and Senior Win First Place Hackathon Challenge
Read NETSCOUT’s ESG report