VassarHacks seeks to welcome computer science enthusiasts

Courtesy of VC++

Five years ago, Jayce Rudig-Leathers ’16 and Tim Brown ’16 created VC++, a group that sought to cover ground on more practical components of computer science that got little attention in Vassar’s Computer Science Department. VC++ is now a bubbling community that aims to assist students at any level of computer science, from building websites and apps to preparing for the interview process in the professional world. With its virtual Hackathon, VassarHacks, coming up the weekend of May 1, VC++ hopes to foster and broaden a space for all students looking to delve into the world of tech.

Meetings at VC++ typically go between 45 minutes to an hour, often with a set theme, according to Nadim Majumder ’22, VC++’s president. “In the first half of the meeting, we present some material/watch something/do an activity centered around our theme,” said Majumder. “And in the second half, we usually have a discussion about what we just presented. In the fall semester—which is recruiting season for tech jobs—we focus on more practical themes.” Some of the themes in these meetings include startups and the different kinds of jobs available in tech.

When asked about the job-centric aspects of VC++, Nick Weiner ’22, the organization’s treasurer, distinguished VC++ from the Career Development Office. “The CDO is very good with helping you find opportunities in computer science, but for computer science, there are certain parts of the interview process that aren’t really covered by the CDO,” Weiner clarified. “So we’re helping to fill that niche. And we’re also helping to build a niche that [Vassar’s] Computer Science Department also doesn’t cover some of the essential parts of the interview process. So we’re trying to build a niche [combining] the two of them.”

For this niche, VC++ has offered study groups for problems that would show up in interviews, as well as mock interviews and tips from upperclassmen to lowerclassmen. They also carry out semester-long projects where students work on building things such as web apps and 3D models, and teach certain tools such as GitHub or Leetcode, as well as other tools that may not be explicitly featured in the Computer Science curriculum. Additionally, VC++ hosts fireside chats with alumnae/i in the tech industry, as well as game nights during midterms and finals season to relieve stress among students.

This year VC++ has joined with the Computer Science Committee to organize VassarHacks, Vassar’s first Hackathon. According to David David ’22, a hackathon is a non-stop programming competition that can run for 24, 48 or 72 hours. “It is meant to be an environment where programmers, software developers, graphic designers and others can start and finish an innovative project,” David explained. “In CS, hacking is the process of exploring new ways to approach a problem, often by way of trial and error; hence the word ‘hacking’ as in the act of roughly cutting—wood for example —and then roughly putting the pieces together to obtain a functional prototype.”

The two themes for the Hackathon this year will be online learning and public health. Participants will be tasked with creating anything—such as an app or a website—within the span of 24 hours.On the decision behind the two themes, Weiner commented on their relevance to today’s world. “We sort of thought [both themes were] very universal, given the current pandemic that we’re going through,” he stated. Participants will have a chance to construct projects designed to assist virtual learning and/or public health, such as an app that might help prevent future pandemics.

Olivia Gotsch ’22, a member of VC++, shared her excitement for the upcoming event. “I think it’s a great way to bring people together, virtually or in person, to come up with creative solutions to issues that have come up in a really difficult year and celebrate these shared interests,” she said. 

Gotsch described the overall VC++ community as warm and inviting. “I think I was hesitant because I didn’t think I was ‘STEM enough’ as an anthro major and I got interested in coding and computer science late,” she recalled. “But I felt welcomed at the first meeting, and that definitely changed my mind.” Gotsch’s insight of VC++ nods to how the club also welcomes those willing to just dabble and be among people with similar interests in tech. Members don’t have to be Computer Science majors going in; as long as they want to share their passion and curiosity for the field, they are welcome to join.

On a similar vein, Majumder commented: “The VC++ community is super supportive and welcoming. A lot of our programming/discussions in meetings involve sharing our experiences which I think helps make us tight-knit.” 

He also made note of how VC++ has helped marginalized students find new opportunities in tech. “I think our focus on helping members prepare for the internship search by sharing resources/experiences has the biggest impact on underrepresented minorities since they are the least likely to have prior exposure to them,” he affirmed.

Those looking to venture into the tech world can register for VassarHacks from April 1st to April 30th at the official VassarHacks website. Everyone—experienced and inexperienced—is welcome to attend.

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