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Hack the Valley allows students from across North America to go from academic to application

Hack the Valley enabled almost 500 students to apply their academic skills at the tech-centred event. Students, sponsors and speakers came from across North America to be part of the hackathon. (Photo by Louren Meneses)

A hackathon at U of T Scarborough started as a wishful campaign promise from a young computer science student until it quickly became a reality.

With over 20 sponsors, including names like Microsoft, Major League Hacking, and Wolfram Alpha, UTSC students hosted Hack the Valley in the Instructional Centre building from Jan. 7 to Jan. 8.

“It’s a 24 to 36-hour tech-centred event where you get to build whatever you want,” says Hack the Valley co-founder, Ralph Maamari. “You have the chance to take your ideas and implement them without any distractions.”

That’s right – no distractions, meaning free meals, and open space to work out ideas individually or with a group. Students entered free of charge, and $5000 worth of prizes were awarded to the best projects created on site.

Maamari, a second-year student computer science student at UTSC, advocated for a hackathon during his campaign for an Association of Mathematical and Computer Science Students (AMACSS) position.  He is proud of the success the event achieved almost a year later.

“We did this because it was about putting UTSC’s computer science program on the map. We have one of the most rigorous CS programs in the world and students should be able to transfer or apply that knowledge to real life applications,” he says.

Hack the Valley enabled that.

Almost 500 students came from all around North America to participate in the overnight event. More than 1,000 students applied, and some sponsors and speakers even drove 13 hours to make the highly anticipated event.

“Some came from Harvard, McGill, Waterloo, McMaster, Queen’s, and all three U of T campuses,” Maamari says.

The two-day event was run entirely by students. Maamari, Brian Chen and Howard Fung made up the organizational lead team.  AMACSS, Computer and Science Enrichment Club (CSEC), Department of Student Life (DSL) and volunteer students also participated in the practical operations of the weekend.

The event also featured workshops, speaker sessions, and an opportunity to meet with professionals in the tech industry. Students also had a chance to showcase their projects for judges that included UTSC faculty, The Hub Director, Gray Graffam, as well as employees from Microsoft.

Hack the Valley also served as a chance for startups from UTSC’s very own incubator, The Hub, to show off their entrepreneurial projects.  

To no surprise of the student lead team, every sponsor has indicated that they will be at the next Hack the Valley.

Even with great success and excitement, Maamari hopes next year will be even grander. He has hopes for Scarborough community opportunities but first wants to see more entrepreneurship education.

“I don’t want students to build an app and just move on to the next project. I want them to go further with it and ask how could I monetize it, is there a social impact that this could generate, and most importantly when am I going to open-source this for the development community?” Maamari says.

Hack the Valley updates can be found on Facebook and Twitter at @hackthevalley and @hack_valley respectively.


© University of Toronto Scarborough