HackState highlights ‘hacker’ culture at MSU

Port Gibson native Douglas Lum - a student at Hinds Community College - helps with the hardware aspect of his team’s project at HackState on Saturday. Lum’s team set out to create a motorized skateboard (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

More than 200 students and industry professionals crowded into the ballroom at the Colvard Student Union on Saturday for the inaugural HackState hackathon.

The weekend event on the Mississippi State University campus saw students from many different fields and backgrounds participate in an innovation and coding competition, along with gaining access to beginner workshops geared toward newcomers to the field.

HackState is also the first Major League Hacking hackathon in Mississippi.

Natalie Larkin, executive director of HackState, told the Starkville Daily News about 80 percent of the participants in the event have never participated in a hackathon before.

Students from 25 colleges and universities were expected to attend.

“One thing is there is a common misconception when they come to hackathons,” Larkin said. “It’s a very scary word when you hear the word ‘hack’ and we want everyone to know this is completely beginner friendly.”

The hackathon also featured mentors and industry professionals to help guide workshops while recruiting new talent from the ranks at HackState.

Randy Thornton of Circadence had a booth at HackState to help educate attendees on cyber security training and keep an eye on possible candidates for internships and full-time jobs.

Thornton agreed with Larkin on the notion of misconceptions surrounding the hacker culture.

“This is really geared more toward programming and being inventive,” Thornton said. “The original hacking term you were hacking together software and it’s kind of grown into hacking as breaking into something. This is more ethical hacking and it’s definitely much better than that.”

Hinds Community College mechanical engineering student Douglas Lum was one of the innovative minds attending HackState and sat at a workbench helping his teammates put together a motorized skateboard.

“I’m just now starting programming, so I felt like this would be a good experience to come here and be a part of it,” Lum said. Thornton spoke from an industry prospective and said bright students like Lum are in high demand because of the high volume of their hacker counterparts in countries like China.

“We have to do with a lot less, so we need more talented people,” Thornton said. “We’ve got many Mississippi State graduates already, so we know the high level of quality that they come out of here with.”

While some students came from across Mississippi and other SEC schools, Larkin said they received RSVPs from people in Amsterdam, Canada and India.

“We also have workshops,” Larkin said. “There is Android app development, intro to web development and also one of our sponsors - Babel Street - is doing an open source intelligence workshop.”

Along with the workshops offered for attendees, Larkin said a wide range of other activities will be provided to add to the experience. Saturday’s agenda included a team-forming event, a cup stacking activity and a late night snack.

Sunday will include the competition portion of the hackathon, with teams submitting their projects and presenting them to judges. The top five teams will be judged on stage in the Colvard Student Union ballroom on Sunday afternoon, with prizes being awarded to the top three teams.

Students participate in the event for free, with food and apparel provided by event sponsors. The event is made possible through a collaboration of Babel Street, MSU’s Distributed Analytics and Security Institute, along with Circadence, International Paper, ADTRAN and GitHub.