Joe Duncko

Joe Duncko

Product-obsessed frontend engineer and community organizer based in Youngstown, Ohio

HackYSU 2022 in Review

HackYSU 2022, Youngstown State University's 7th annual hackathon, was held last weekend (April 8th-10th) at Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club.

As the former Director of the first three iterations of the event, it's wild to see it still continue to attract both new student leadership as well as participants.

Despite the aging of the hackathon format, the excitement hasn't disappeared from the event - in fact, I'd say that now that hackathons have become more ubiquitous students, sponsors, and YSU staff are more excited about the event now than ever before.

Past events

For posterity, here's a quick rundown of the previous years' events (some of the previous years' websites still exist, so I've linked to them below):

  • HackYSU 2015
    • The first HackYSU
    • Directed by me
    • Took place in Meshel Hall, with presentations in Moser Hall
    • Supported by Major League Hacking (MLH)
    • Joint effort between multiple YSU CSIS student organizations (ACM, ISEHA, ITSA)
    • ~65 participants
    • Fun facts
      • The website and logo were made by Shaquille Stoutamire. The logo was supposed to be a placeholder. Everyone liked it so much we kept it. Later it became the Penguin Hackers' logo.
  • HackYSU 2016
    • Directed by me
    • First HackYSU held in Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club
    • Supported by Major League Hacking (MLH)
    • First HackYSU held by the newly formed Penguin Hackers student organization, which consumed the ISEHA and ITSA
    • According to this article over 100 students participated
    • Fun facts
      • The logo was created by RJ Thomson's design class as part of their curriculum
      • The website was created by Shaquille Stoutamire
  • HackYSU 2017
    • Last HackYSU directed by me
    • Held in Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club
    • Supported by Major League Hacking (MLH)
    • According to this article more than 140 students participated, 23 mentors showed up to help, and 26 projects were submitted for judging
    • Fun facts
      • We were able to reimburse non-YSU students for their travel expenses, so we had a very decent number of students travel in
  • HackYSU 2018
    • Cancelled due to organizational issues
  • HackYSU 2019
    • Co-directed by Ralph Streb and Anthony Hake, with support from Sarah Nadzan
    • Held in Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club
    • ~135 students participated (per Anthony Hake)
    • Unfortunately, I didn't attend this iteration of the event
  • HackYSU 2020
    • Co-directed by Ralph Streb and Anthony Hake, with support from Sarah Nadzan and Jake Mauk
    • Held in Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club
    • ~135 students participated (per Anthony Hake)
  • HackYSU 2021
    • Directed by Ryan Lalchand, with support from Julio, Sam, and Dee
    • Held virtually on Discord due to COVID 19 virus

This year's event

This year's event, HackYSU 2022, brought the event back to Stambaugh Stadium's DeBartolo Stadium Club.

Directed by Ryan Lalchand, the event brought in ~75 local students who submitted 10 projects at the end of the weekend.

It was the first HackYSU held since the YSU Computer Club was created, which consumed the Penguin Hackers, Frost Penguins, and ACM.

My participation

My participation in HackYSU this year began before the event. Ryan and I met several months beforehand, and fortunately hit it off. I'm happy I was able to be available as a resource for him and his team before the event, which I've unfortunately not had the opportunity to do for the other generations of officers.

I spent ~24 hours at the event this year - starting with helping with set up, then with helping students, mentors, and sponsors get situated, then finally running around helping out students as a mentor.

I also gave two talks:

One was the same, very beginner friendly "Let's make your first website!" (Slides, GitHub) that I gave last year. That went over pretty well.

The other was a "Let's make an interactive web app with React!" (Slides, GitHub) talk that involved making a very simple Pokedex based off the PokeAPI.

While I was super happy with the content (it covered some background, initializing Create React App, fetching data from a server, displaying lists of data, handling state, handling inputs, deploying to Vercel, etc - all the stuff you need to be dangerous with React), the first hour of the talk was trying to help the 5 people who decided to follow along install node. The subsequent three were an unfortunately slow pattern of do a step, help everyone catch up, do a step, help every catch up, over and over again.

While I really appreciate everyone who followed along, I feel so bad that I put them through such a painful experience. That being said, I was really happy with how the content went over.

Next time I plan on having all the students use CodeSandbox, and I'll use a live-shared CodeSandbox instance to demonstrate, that way students could open my instance in another tab and compare their code with mine on their own screens. I think if I do that I can cut the time in half, to two hours.

Acknowledgements

I think it's important to set aside a little space to acknowledge and thank some of the people and organizations that have supported HackYSU since the beginning:

The YSU Student Government was the first organization to officially acknowledge - and then fund - HackYSU. If it wasn't for them, HackYSU wouldn't have been able to establish itself and would never have happened.

The YSU College of STEM and its Dean, Dr. Wim Steelant, have also been supporters of HackYSU since the beginning. Dr. Steelant even gave an opening statement at this year's event, which was a welcome show of support.

The Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) has also consistently supported HackYSU since its infancy. It means a lot that a Youngstown community pillar like the YBI continues to believe in and support the event. (Note to self: ask the YBI how many HackYSU alumni have went through their programs.)

I'd also like to thank YSU CSIS's Connie Frisby for helping navigate the chaos that is YSU, generally putting up with me, and not just shutting down the whole HackYSU operation before it could even happen.

I think something also needs to be said about MCCTC's Mike Sekol, who has brought his ridiculously talented students to the last several iterations of the event, and consistently goes above and beyond to support both his students and the event.

Criticisms

CSIS Participation

Not a single full time YSU CSIS professor stopped by during the event. To me, that's a metaphor for the state of the YSU CSIS department.

YSU

Separately, following along with the progress of the planning of the event, it is clear that it is still amazingly painful to put on an event at YSU, just like it was 5 years ago.

Despite there now being precedent for HackYSU to take place at all, it still seems there are people and rules blocking progress around every corner.

As it stands, planning HackYSU takes hundreds of cumulative person hours to put on, many of which involve physically running around campus trying to navigate the college's politics.

If HackYSU dies, it's going to be because the massive effort it takes to put on the event is too much for YSU students - who typically live off campus and work part time - to handle.

The only way for the HackYSU organization team to combat this is by documenting process as much as possible to make it easier for the next generation - something I tried to do during my time as Director, but failed. Thankfully, that's something that is being worked on as I write this.

That being said, I'd love to see more effort from YSU's side to make this process easier for students, not that I know what that'd look like.

Conclusion

A couple days after the event, someone who participated in HackYSU over the weekend reached out to me.

They told me that they shared their project (which was awarded as part of the top 3 HackYSU 2022 projects) on social media and a Silicon Valley based company reached out with a job offer less than 48 hours later.

They said that the encouragement from the event's judges helped them break through their imposter syndrome, and put themselves out there.

It's outcomes like this that prove that hackathons work.

That when given the resources - time, food, space, hardware, encouragement, mentorship, etc - YSU STEM students develop the skills they need to succeed in the professional world.