There is a misconception about computer hacking, University of Missouri senior Gabrielle Perdieu said.
“Really, we’re building things up, not breaking them down,” she said.
Perdieu, a business major, organized HackMizzou, and this weekend in the second annual “hackathon” about 350 students will deprive themselves of sleep for 48 hours all in the name of continuous computer programming.
“The best way I can describe a hackathon is an invention competition,” said Mike Swift, commissioner of Major League Hacking, the governing body of all things hacking. “It’s a celebration of building.”
Hackers, or at least these hackers, are good guys, Perdieu and Swift said, though the first programming parlor trick Perdieu learned when she joined the Association for Computer Machinery was how to uncover passwords in a website’s code.
“And that’s simple,” Perdieu said with a guilty smile. “I wouldn’t say I know how to program. I wouldn’t say I know how to code. But I can do that.”
Teams of two to five will spend the weekend devising computer and mobile applications and different data interpretation software. At last year’s event, which had about one-third the number of this year’s participants, hackers programmed drones to fly over houses and appraise their values. Another student hacker created Bully Finder, software that allows parents to access their child’s social network profile and search for abusive behavior.
“These are things that aren’t just really cool,” she said, “but they’re practical, too. … It’s such a creative process, that at the end of the weekend, you have these amazing projects. People shouldn’t be afraid of it. They should be excited.”
Nearly half of this weekend’s participants are from MU, with others coming from University of Illinois, Purdue University and other colleges. A dozen high schoolers are hitching a ride from St. Louis to participate, and a few teams are coming from Canada, too, Perdieu said.
Major League Hacking supports hackathons throughout North America and the United Kingdom, Swift said. The group is supporting the MU event in hopes of growing programming in the Midwest. HackMizzou has a slew of local and national sponsors, including Google. The league also is bringing a hardware lab, complete with drones and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets to woo the most advanced hackers.
“It’s every computer programmer’s dream,” Perdieu said.
HackMizzou offers the winning team a technology prize pack worth $4,000, Perdieu said.
“They’ll have access this weekend to technology that kids around here normally might not have access to,” Swift said. “That’s something to get excited about.”