The Evolution of MHacks: Redefining the Hackathon and the Hacker – by Innovate Blue Student Associate Spencer Peterson

This past weekend, the fifth MHacks to date was held throughout multiple buildings on north campus at the University of Michigan. The hackathon, as usual, garnered over a thousand students, from all over the country, as well as an extensive list of big name sponsors.

Students spent the weekend building incredible hacks, showing off to recruiters, and some even walked away with cool gadget-prizes like a DK2 Oculus Rift. But more important than any of this, perhaps, is how MHacks, “the original epic hackathon” is advancing the hackathon culture it helped to first establish.

Just a year and a half ago, a much different team, with a much different focus was preparing for the second MHacks. The goal was simple: bigger is better. What resulted was the largest student hackathon in history: 1,200 hackers working day and night at the Big House, America’s largest stadium.

Thousands of students were inspired to bring hackathons back to their own schools. To work on their tech-passions more often and sacrifice weekends to build crazy things. A movement was started, and MHacks has ridden the “hacker culture” momentum since.

However, at this past MHacks V, more than any other, we witnessed the evolution of that hacker culture, which is now more welcoming to different skill sets, more aware of long term building and projects, as opposed to the original, short-term, just-for-kicks hacks. Indeed, MHacks V packs the same size, glitz, and glamour, but now it is also a hackathon for more students and, ultimately, for more learning and growth.

The top three finishers at MHacks II built impressive hacks: a trash can that could sort garbage from recycling, a Google Glass creation to help drivers be more aware and safe, among many others. Yet, beyond that weekend, these builds ultimately fizzled out, fading into nothing more than a weekend hack.

A Look Back at Historic MHacks

Since then, MHacks has worked to create a better long-term experience, without compromising the short-term adrenaline rush of a hackathon.

“Since it’s inception, MHacks has focused on bringing people together to build community,” says Tom Erdmann, “and we want to grow that community as much as possible. Everyone is welcome here.”

At MHacks V, we saw this more so than ever before. More students from majors such as business, the arts, and various LSA studies joined the traditional computer science bunch. Students were more focused on their own growth and development than in previous years. Some students chose not to compete, instead opting to work on previous hacks and startups. Others spent time running skill shares, teaching their peers unique tricks and tips for their areas of expertise.

This educational focus builds on the momentum of MHacks IV, where I had the opportunity to learn design and Adobe Photoshop from a talented designer. The next day I enrolled in my first ever design course at U-M’s Stamps School of Art + Design as a result.

This past weekend thousands of students experienced “the original epic hackathon.” Energy drinks, sleepless nights, and non-stop building. However, MHacks is about much more than that today. It’s focus to push beyond simply establishing a hacker culture, and rather re-define that culture to welcome students from more walks, interests, and skills sets was on display like never before.

With greater emphases on learning and diversity?—?in thought, background, and action?—?MHacks is redefining the hackathon and the hacker.

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