A drowsy college student peels himself out of a sleeping bag as the morning sun illuminates the Kovens Conference Center. Spread out around him, coders sit at round tables, clicking away on their keyboards. A woman in an FIU sweater paces back and forth by the window, pumping her arms and bopping her head while jamming to music. A young man wearing a large fishing hat bounces a beach ball on the floor, skirting between tables decorated with Cheetos bags and soda cans.
Time is almost up on the 36-hour coding marathon known as ShellHacks. Every hacker here has a seemingly different approach to their craft, yet they share a commonality that is so powerful, that it creates a tremendous community that attracts the biggest businesses in the world.
Students with a love for technology are invited every year to create computer applications at ShellHacks. Hosted by Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) at FIU, this year’s ShellHacks was once again the largest hackathon in Florida. Sponsoring the proceedings were Google, Microsoft, Meta and other top companies like Statefarm, Capital One and Kaseya.
ShellHacks 2022 marked the first in-person version of the event since 2019. With 36 hours to code, students made applications related to virtual reality, gaming, money management, philanthropy and more. Participants had the option of teaming up or working individually.
“You find a spot, get set up and start coding,” said Alex Chirinos, a junior computer science major at FIU. “Once you finish or get burnt out, you go downstairs, enjoy your food, have some fun and then go back on the grind.”
Between coding sessions, workshops helped hackers with their applications and a job fair connected students to recruiters from top tech companies, which traveled to the event looking to meet talent.
Cesar Villa-Garcia ’18, the founder of UPE and one of the organization’s alumni board members, says that ShellHacks has become a pipeline for FIU students to top technology jobs.
“I love seeing the sponsors coming to support, whether it’s local sponsors here in Miami or even ones from the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle or New York,” Villa-Garcia says. “These are companies that come down to Miami to specifically recruit FIU and Miami tech talent. We’ve been able to show year after year that the talent is here.”
Villa-Garcia says more than 500 of the participants were from FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. From 2017 to 2022, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by FIU’s Knight School of Computing and Information Sciences increased by 99%. Hundreds of students from the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida also came to ShellHacks.
Applications were judged by industry experts and prizes were awarded to winners. However, ShellHacks was more than just a competition. Attendees who did not feel ready to participate in the hackathon but wanted to learn more about technology came too, participating in workshops, Super Smash Bros. tournaments, Pokémon trivia and cup-stacking competitions.
More than 4,000 FIU students and alumni have gotten involved with UPE at FIU since its founding in 2014, Villa-Garcia says. The organization continues to grow as FIU continues to produce tech talent.