Fedora attended HackRU spring 2015, a hackathon centered around students. Hackathons are events where developers from surrounding areas or even across the world gather to create cool projects over a period of time, usually a weekend.

HackRU was held on April 18th to 19th at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Around a thousand hackers attended the 24-hour event, using their imagination and skills to create a minimum viable product during the allocated time. Fedora sponsored the event; we were able to obtain a booth and distribute our swag while answering their questions and mentoring hackers. We gave away stickers, F21 install disks, and shirts.

Overall, the atmosphere at HackRU was filled with ambition, music, and the hackers’ chatter. I received many questions while running the Fedora booth, from both long-term Linux users and newbies. Some queried on the nature of our organisation, while others asked us about our advantages over other distributions. Many of the attendees of the event were somewhat familiar with Linux, but only a handful actively used Fedora. The stack of F21 Workstation DVDs was quickly depleted, requiring frequent restocking. By the end of the event, we were able to give out all of our DVDs, many hundred disks.

We were asked questions about Linux, Fedora, and our benefits over other distros. Some interested users also asked about contributing. The most surprising question that we received on a stable basis, however, was whether Fedora was free. We answered positively, free as in beer and free as in freedom. Some were still doubtful, asking whether it was only free at the event or free forever. We answered “free forever”, of course. We were glad to be able to inform these attendees about FOSS, and the free goodies that collaboration can create.



The friendly hackers at MLH were able to capture the whole event on camera. The photo album can be found on their Facebook page, or at the link below:

MLH HackRU Pictures

When we asked how many people had open sourced their hacks at the closing ceremonies, almost everyone raised their hands. We were glad many hackers knew of open source and were willing to allow the community to inspect their hack’s code.

We were thoroughly impressed by many of the creative hacks that the event attendees created, but we especially loved reusable hacks that could benefit the community beyond simple use. The best reusable hacks we found included a college book exchange application that could possibly be expanded to many schools across the country, a Pebble authentication tool, a Pebble remote, and a Bluetooth mesh network. We picked out some of the best possibly reusable hacks and described them below.

The app that we saw the most reuse potential in was a college book exchange app, by Shawn Pan. The app was very simplistic and worked smoothly, but also had the potential, as a MVP, to be expanded to schools around the country. Having a college book exchange website in every campus would greatly reduce the costs of a college education, expanding opportunities to many more people. His app can be found on GitHub here: https://github.com/shawniscool/TricoBookExchange 

In addition, we found another useful and reusable hack created by Fox Wilson. He worked on his app by himself, creating SignIn with Pebble. His app allows website owners to authenticate users using their Pebble watches. His app was very well-polished, and included one of the highest-quality code we found at the fast-paced event. You can find his app on GitHub, and even reuse his code in your own projects: https://github.com/fwilson42/signin-for-pebble

The Bluetooth mesh network was created by Grant Butler and Michael Selsky, as an iOS application. The source can be found on GitHub, here: https://github.com/grantjbutler/cork. We loved the idea of being able to communicate independently of the Internet, while using the devices we are already familiar with.

Another group of hackers, Vedant Mehta and Rishi Masand, created a cool “remote” app, named PebKey. It allows users to perform actions on their computer by a simple hand motion, with an accuracy we were impressed by. For instance, raising your hand could open a new window of your app of choice, without needing to perform any actions on your keyboard. Their app can be found on GitHub as well, here: https://github.com/darthbatman/KeyPeb

Altogether, HackRU was an amazing experience, both as a sponsor and as a maker. Lots of creativity flowed, ambitions achieved, and FOSS spread. We would love to interact with these students again, hopefully fostering a community of free and open source makers that will collaborate on future innovations that are not limited by proprietary licenses.

I think it was really neat to see a community-led open-source project like Fedora sponsoring a hackathon. It was definitely a great event, and I had a lot of fun developing my application and releasing it as a free and open source app. I hope future involvement of open source projects in the student hacker phenomenon can really spark the light of collaboration and create innovations that will be free for everyone to use and modify.

– event attendee, Fox Wilson