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U Michigan Hackathon Set To Draw More Than 1,200 Competitors

For 36 hours beginning Sept. 20, more than 1,200 undergraduate computer programmers will descend on the University of Michigan's football stadium to participate in "the most epic hackathon," MHacks 2013.

Students will work in teams of up to four people to compete for the first place prize of $10,000. The event encourages student programmers to develop inventive new projects under strict time constraints. Some students arrive at the competition with pre-formed teams and product ideas, but they aren't allowed to write any code until the hackathon begins.

Although the word "hack" may suggest illegal activities, the hackathon culture focuses on using technology to create rather than break. According to information from the university, winning projects from another MHacks event earlier this year included a site that translates spoken language, another site that mimics the audio effects of electric guitar hardware, and an app that tells people what shots they need when they travel. Some 2012 hackathon projects are in the process of being commercialized.

Students from around the country, and some from other countries, participate in the event. MHacks runs buses to transport participants from about 100 universities in the United States and Canada. For other participants, the event pays $200 toward the cost of a flight.

During the event, participants can tweet designated hashtags to request things like pizza or technical assistance. A napping area is also available.

The event is organized by the Michigan Hackers and MPowered Entrepreneurship student organizations. The University of Michigan's Division of Computer Science and Engineering, Facebook, Groupon, Hearst Automotive, and other organizations sponsor the event. Tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Twitter also send engineers to the event to act as mentors.

On the final day of MHacks, the judges select approximately 15 finalists from the 400 to 500 teams in the competition. Those finalists are given two minutes to demonstrate their creations to the participants. In the end, the competition awards more than $30,000 in prizes to the top teams.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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