MTSU HackMT goes virtual this year for computer-sa...

MTSU HackMT goes virtual this year for computer-savvy college students

When a tired bunch of college students and several dozen other participants wrapped up the fifth annual MTSU computer science HackMT with the rousing awards ceremony before heading home in January 2020, no one had any idea Year 6 would be held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that’s the reality of the situation and the event Friday through Sunday, Jan. 29-31, as HackMT organizers want to keep the popular hackathon running and in a safe environment, and not canceled as so many events of all types have fared since last March.

HackMT logo In normal times, the hackathon brings software developers, visual designers, programmers and computer science and computer information systems students from universities across the region into the MTSU Science Building to collaborate while inventing new web platforms, games, mobile apps and electronic gadgets.

But this year is altogether different because of the need for everyone to be socially distant to meet MTSU, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols.

Dr. Joshua “Josh” Phillips, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science

Dr. Josh Phillips

Department of Computer Science associate professor Josh Phillips, inheriting the director reins from soon-to-be retired professor Chrisila Pettey, said participants, industry mentors and judges will all be remote.

Phillips said he anticipates lower attendance — maybe 150 college students — because of coronavirus, but “we could potentially have international participants since everything is virtual.”

“The coordination for HackMT-specific activities will take place using a platform known as Discord, more commonly used to coordinate large video game communities,” said Phillips, who is being aided by assistant professor Rafet Al-Tobasei. “Students will all be working virtually, which limits projects to software-only or other virtual-friendly ideas.”

A Zoom webinar feature will be used to perform the event’s opening and closing ceremonies. Webinars and virtual meet-and-greets will be hosted by industry professionals throughout the event.

Phillips said DevPost will be used to handle submissions and is often used for other virtual hackathons.

“Groups will submit a video and have a webpage with links and other media for demonstrating their products or link to a live Zoom session at the end, for example, if they would like,” he said.

Interest in HackMT remains high with sponsoring companies. Their employees will be event mentors and judges.

L3Harris, Asurion and Bondware Web Solutions are the top-tier sponsors. L3Harris has agreed to provide $5,000 for two scholarships. CAT Financial, Doppler, Technology Advice and UBS are other key sponsors.

MTSU boasts the largest computer science department in Tennessee, with 400-plus majors and a leading graduate program. The department works closely with the Computational Sciences Ph.D. program.

The bachelor’s in computer science/professional computer science concentration is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc.

To learn more, go here.

— Randy Weiler (