The annual SLO Hacks competition saw 158 more students participating than when it first started. In 2018, the first hackathon was held at the Cal Poly Multi Activity Center (MAC) with 200 attendees. This year, 358 students formed teams and were tasked with creating a solution to an existing, real-world problem. 

Students from a variety of different schools brought innovative solutions to the Cybersecurity Institute for 36 hours of uninterrupted hacking. At Camp San Luis Obispo, students participated in the annual SLO Hacks Feb. 28 to March 1 to win prizes from company sponsors and receive guidance from their representatives.

The SLO Hacks club was started in 2017 by computer science senior Selynna Sun. 

This was computer science sophomore Kenny Lau’s third hackathon so far. Lau and his team won first place after creating a FinTech project that uses Blockchain to let users around the world send and receive money via text message, without the need for data or wifi. 

“I was very happy and excited to know that all the hard work we put into the project paid off,” Lau said. 

Some projects do not end when the winners are announced, however. Lau said his team has plans to redesign the project, and turn it into an app that will become the go-to payment system for online shopping, going out to eat and sending money to friends. 

Lau said that SLO Hacks is unique because it attracts students of all different majors and grade levels, bringing many different people into one space.

Lau said he encourages students to apply for next year’s event, and to not be intimidated. He said that SLO Hacks is a very friendly environment where students learn valuable skills that can be put on their resume.

Computer science junior Richa Gadgil and her team worked with Google Cloud to create Melanomiq, a diagnostic system for skin cancer. The system allows users to upload a photo of a mole they suspect could be cancerous onto the app, and the app gives them a percentage chance of it being melanoma. Additionally, users can enter their symptoms and be referred to either an urgent care facility or a dermatologist, depending on the severity of those symptoms.

Gadgil is the cofounder of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) club on campus, and she said her team entered into the hackathon looking to push the boundaries of AI. 

“Working toward that similar vision together is what really pushed [my team and I] through that all-nighter so that was great,” Gadgil said.

It is important for students to get their hands dirty with new and exciting platforms that different companies pitch, according to Gadgil. Having a strong vision and passion for the consumer-facing project students create, she said, is also a must for participating in an event as demanding as this one. 

The event introduces programming to students of all backgrounds – some who have never even coded before, according to SLO Hacks co-lead director and junior statistics major Steven Taruc.

“SLO Hacks is important because it creates a hacker community in an area that doesn’t really have one,” Taruc said.

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