Stevenson Event Center will remain empty of the sleepless coders, Red Bull cans, and glowing computer rigs that populated CruzHacks events of years past. The 2021 CruzHacks hackathon will be held virtually over Hopin, allowing for a greater number of participants than in previous years. This year’s event is scheduled for Jan. 15-17.

With applications pouring in from over 24 countries and 185 schools, CruzHacks plans on hosting its most diverse group of programmers yet. While the hackathon usually draws in crowds of techies, almost 47 percent of their participants are first-time hackers.

“Never before has there been such an outstanding opportunity to network with so many students, mentors, and sponsors from countries all around the world,” said CruzHacks Engineering team head Tim Nguyen. “Despite some downsides that this global scope can create, I know CruzHacks 2021 will help our attendees learn valuable cross-cultural and interdisciplinary skills that can benefit not only their professional careers, but also their personal relationships.” 

During the three day hackathon, participants will team up and design innovative projects ranging from tackling social issues like health care and environmentalism to enhancing social media performance. In 2020, some of the winning projects included PollenPlanter, an app that provides different pollinators to choose from and support in your garden, and Facebook Wrapped, which visualizes Facebook’s collection of user data.

A hackathon is a weekend-long event where participants build out ideas, networks, and show off skills. Hundreds of students, sponsors, mentors, and judges gather together over the course of the weekend. CruzHacks will conduct workshops to learn new skills and network with folks. The event welcomes first-time hackathon attendees

Hopin is a virtual event platform capable of hosting hundreds to thousands of participants around the world. Attendees can move in and out of rooms just like an in-person event.

“Our initiative is to expand diversity in tech by sparking the drive to innovate within all our participants,” according to the CruzHacks website. “At CruzHacks, you form teams, discover an idea, build it, and show it off at the end. Hundreds of students, sponsors, mentors, and judges gather together to push the limits of what [they] can build, only limited by their imagination.” 

Co-organizers Kelly Fesler and Neha Pamidi, who also co-organized CruzHacks 2020, said the main challenges of organizing the event in-person are finding a venue and providing free food — two of the biggest incentives for participants. Evenings crammed into the Stevenson Event Center to set things up are now late nights on Slack.

Their goals this year shifted to making sure all of the organizers and teams can easily access the platforms, said Pamidi and Fesler. One of the more noticeable changes was the organizing team’s membership and level of experience. 

“Before, it was really easy for organizers who have never attended a hackathon before to slip into our team and kind of get into the workflow,” Fesler said. “Since the idea of a hackathon has become more abstract lately and harder for us to picture what it would look like, having folks who have experience with some sort of large scale virtual event or prior hackathon experience has proved to be helpful.” 

To maintain the comradery that CruzHacks garners each year, the organizers have put together activities throughout the weekend to create an environment where participants can connect and network with one another. Marketing Director Hannah Wong draws parallels between a virtual class and a virtual hackathon in the differences they share from their in-person counterparts. Despite these differences, the organizers want to implement fun social media challenges and workshops to keep the hackers engaged throughout the weekend. 

Nguyen is optimistic in this year’s hackathon as he believes it is grounds for adapting new and improved features that will potentially pave the way for future organizers and attendees. 

“I can only hope that this year’s attendees get the chance to collaborate with others to create amazingly impactful projects, make memories with one another that hopefully extend beyond our CruzHacks weekend, and be inspired by all the amazing passion that others express throughout our event,” Nguyen said. ”Seeing how they can utilize their own skills in engineering, design, and entrepreneurship to make the world a better place one day at a time.”