As I write this reflection of my past year, I want you to understand who I am and what I have done. My name is Stephen Rodriguez. I am a senior in Computer Science at Iona College. I am in charge of my schools Computer Science Club, lead developer of my senior capstone project and several other senior projects. But most of all, above anything else, I am a Hacker. Today, I want to share with you my story of how I became a Hacker and why I actively proclaim a “Hacktivist” philosophy everywhere I go.
How it all began:
It was my first semester of my senior year. I was getting quite bored with the same ol’ run of the mill programming. In my college, Java takes precedence as the main programming language for about 80% of our course work. Although Java is one of many foundation languages for beginner programmers, I felt that I had surpassed the realms of “Introductory Programming”. I was seeking a challenge, a way to test my skills. Much in the same way that a runner would run a marathon, I was seeking my own kind of marathon.
I’m not sure exactly how I found out but my very first hackathon (now only a week away) was HackRU at Rutgers University. It was a 24 hour hackathon. At first, I was only planning on talking with some of the members of USACS (Rutger’s Computer Science Club) for some tips and collaboration ideas with my schools club. But almost instantly, my intentions had changed and I was instantly immersed into a room full of 500+ hackers all sharing their knowledge and coding away.
Now, from where I come from, the most programmers I have ever seen in one single room was about 30. This on the other hand was something otherworldly. This was the moment when I learned a valuable lesson:
When you spend most of your life looking through a microscope (Java), this ends up becoming your realm of existence. But sometimes, we must take our eyes away from this microscopic world in order to view the vastness of the world we live in
Once I finished with HackRU, that feeling had set in. The feeling and drive most hackers feel after their first Hackathon. The desire for more. And with that, I spent the remainder of that semester going to all the major hackathons across the northeast region: Y-Hack, NYUHacks, and MHacks. At each one, I had developed a new skill, picked up a new language, learned best-practices, drew up designs, implemented designs, and of course drank tons of coffee. It was like a never-ending string of experiences and emotions that enveloped every part of me as a programmer.
With the completion of each hackathon, I had this feeling of having “Leveled Up”. And in every definition of the word, it actually did feel like that. I would return back to school and feel confident and experienced enough to tackle even the most challenging assignments in class. It was then that I learned my next most valuable lesson:
Hackathons were more than just a competition for me. They were a way for me to test my skills and evolve as an efficient programmer
Now the reason I say efficient is because at the core of all of our work, its not about being a better programmer but being able to deliver upon your goals. When you are tasked with developing a hack in such a short time span, you start to focus on efficiency and getting the job done. Each Hackathon became a milestone for me. A story to tell others. An experience to share, and a lesson to learn.
The Roots of Hacktivism
It all began with NYUHacks. NYUHacks was my third hackathon. It was also my first hackathon with a clear theme: “Open Data”. We were given 36 hours and over 100+ different API’s, resources, and libraries to develop a hack that would utilize Open Data in an effort to improve the entire community of NYC.
This was something different. It was a different form of thinking. In addition, like most hackathons, I came without a team. As such, I had the opportunity to advocate myself to other teams looking for members. I was soon paired with a team of programmers who were developing a hack using Google GLASS and several libraries to create a smart textbook purchasing system for college students. And like other hackathons, I evolved my skills and experiences along with other programmers.
At the end of the competition, we held the awards ceremony for best hacks. And truly, some of the hacks I saw were revolutionary and truly beneficial to society. It was then that I learned my next valuable lesson:
As hackathon competitors, we are given the opportunity to change the world in such a short time. But as a hacktivist, we are tasked with the greater challenge of changing lives of other programmers
Why not? After two or three hackathons, shouldn't we be advocating other programmers to attend? By attending one, you become a better programmer, you expand beyond your current realm of experience. And most of all, you make lasting friendships. Hacktivism at its core is something more than just bringing your friends to a hackathon. Its about helping each other become better programmers. Being a part of the grander community of hackers opens up so many doors of opportunity.
This is a question I ask myself very often. And really, its not something I worry on, I embrace it. I love the days when my schedule is empty. Because very often, I am either continuing a hack or starting new ones. So when I do have those empty days, I ask myself, “What’s next?”. And every time, its the same answer: