VandyHacks VI: Where dreams become (virtual) reality

Hackers to gather Nov. 1-3 for a weekend-long programming marathon paired with food, workshops and networking


Janet Fang

A group photo from VandyHacks in 2018. (Photo courtesy Janet Fang)

Justine Del Monte, Staff Writer

Beginning Nov. 1, the Wondr’y will be filled with 36 hours of hacking, creativity and community. The sixth annual student-run and self-funded VandyHacks hackathon will allow college students to explore their creativity in developing any project that makes use of their programming skills, regardless of experience level. 700+ students will have the chance to win prizes, interact with professionals, expand their programming abilities and bond with fellow students at this year’s VandyHacks VI: Art Edition, challenging students to “code a masterpiece.” 

VandyHacks is a student programming organization started by Sam Pepose and Carolyn Zeng in 2014. Students desired a program similar to other hackathons beginning around the country and wanted a way to engage programmers outside of the classroom. Now, co-presidents Matt Leon and Nidhi Mehta, with Nidhi being the first female president of the club, are challenging programming stereotypes and working to expand VandyHacks even further, VandyHacks organizer sophomore Sophia Chen said. 

Vanderbilt students aren’t the only students who will get to indulge in coding and snacks alike. Former VandyHacks volunteer junior Adair Kelley describes many of the participants as “super-nerds” that come from all across the country. With help from local business partners, VandyHacks organizers raised money to provide buses to help undergraduates from schools across the region travel to VandyHacks, including the University of Michigan and Georgia Tech. This year will feature the most diverse and selective group of hackers since the beginning of VandyHacks, according to the VandyHacks website.

Janet Fang
A student uses a virtual reality headset at Vandyhacks in 2018. (Photo courtesy Janet Fang)

“Hackers” will be coding and competing to win prizes such as Nintendo Switch Lites and GoPros, Chen said. For those who might be less competitive, participants can look out for free goodies provided by the many sponsors of the event. 

Future opportunities for expanding knowledge and networking are also provided through the presence of tech-related companies and recruiters at the event, and students can attend organized tech workshops hosted onsite to hone in on their skills. 

“If you have any inkling of interest or anything related to the field, it’s just a great environment because there’s so many resources and people from all around so you can be apart of that community,” junior Wilson Huang said.

Last year’s event included projects such as a virtual reality simulation of a duck-filled bubble bath and a rhythm game aimed at helping individuals with dyslexia. Kelley describes the 36 hours as a concentrated time for students to flesh out any “itching” ideas and to focus on programming in a way that one might not normally have the opportunity to do in class or on their own time. 

Kelley, a computer science major, also noted that observers without a particular interest in coding can still enjoy the event and will likely walk away with advanced programming knowledge. In addition, participants will be unlikely to leave on an empty stomach, as copious amounts of food will be offered throughout the weekend, with this year’s offerings including Jeni’s ice cream and Krispy Kreme donuts.

“It’s definitely a caffeine and carb-fueled 36 hours,” Kelley said.

The competition officially begins at 10 p.m. Friday Nov. 1 and the expo to display the completed projects will take place at 10 a.m. Sunday Nov. 3. Events in between include Zumba, networking, a morning walk, a typing competition, a hand spa and 1:30 a.m. karaoke on Nov. 3, according to the event schedule on the Vandyhacks VI website.