Third annual QHacks a success for tech advocacy on campus

QHacks co-chairs have worked tirelessly to maximize the organization’s potential

QHacks closing ceremonies in BioSci auditorium on Sunday.

Over 500 students from across North America came together in Beamish-Munro Hall this past weekend to participate in the third annual QHacks 36-hour hackathon.

Created in 2016, QHacks seeks to advocate for the tech community at Queen’s and throughout Canada. Since its start, QHacks has become one of the most successful hackathons in North America. 

Students from all over the continent come to collaborate, attend workshops, network, experiment with software or hardware and take part in various hacker challenges over the course of 36 hours. At Queen’s, hackers have the chance to build their ideas and compete for over $46,000 worth of prizes for their innovations.

QHacks is one of many hackathons held around the world governed by Major League Hacking, a regulatory body that represents all legitimate hackathons. Although typically associated with gaining unauthorized access to data systems, ‘hacking’ is also slang for building apps and programs with software. 

The Journal sat down with co-chairs Zack Harley, Sci ’18, and Robert Saunders, Sci ’19, to discuss not only the role of QHacks in generating awareness for the tech community, but also how much the organization has grown here at Queen’s in the span of just three years.

“This is one of those things that really shows where the interests of students at Queen’s lie and hopefully it shows the administration that there are things we feel probably aren’t being taught in class that are super important,” Harley said.

“One of the big things QHacks is trying to do is incubate … the tech community here, and we’re the biggest player in that,” Saunders added. “Queen’s is underrepresented in terms of its computing and tech-related fields. QHacks wants to raise awareness about what we have to offer and let people, students and employers know that Queen’s is serious about this.”

One of the goals of QHacks is to welcome a diverse group of students from different faculties at Queen’s, but also from different North American universities.

“When a hacker comes to QHacks, I associate them with two different groups,” Saunders said. “There are the hackers that are heads-down and in it to win it. Then there are hackers that aren’t as experienced and they’re coming to learn — which is one of the great things about QHacks. We have a bunch of workshops about new technology, and different problems that companies and our partners are solving.”

The hackathon is completely free to students and offers them the chance to network with companies who are in the process of recruiting. Some of this year’s sponsor companies include Standard Library, Sun Life Financial, IBM, Microsoft, RBC and Scotiabank. According to Saunders, securing more than 60 sponsors, mentors and partners was one of this year’s greatest successes.

“QHacks is the largest student-run event outside of Orientation Week at Queen’s, in that it hosts 500 students, and we also bring in 100 or so mentors and partners,” Saunders said. “We have hackers from Queen’s and we try and accommodate the community here as much as possible.”

Looking towards the future of the hackathon, the two co-chairs believe the focus should be on the importance of generating a greater awareness for the computing and tech-based faculties on campus.

“I’d love to continue bringing in amazing sponsors and bring in the maximum number of students, maximize the outreach that we have here at Queen’s,” Harley said. “It’s so cool to have all these students come out and build things that they can’t normally because of the constraints of what they’re learning in class.”

Saunders believes QHacks has the capacity to increase awareness in not only the importance of tech itself, but also the various tech-based faculties existing on campus that aren’t as visibly represented.

“We want QHacks to become a bigger, better event that showcases the talent we have, whether that be through having more people attend or improving the quality of the event,” Saunders said. “That is what will make the tech vibe at Queen’s change it could be a different vibe altogether.”

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