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Sunday, August 14, 2022

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The event is free and open to both students and community members. The event is free and open to both students and community members.

Hacking into Big Data

SDSU's first-ever Big Data Hackathon will feature teams competing to develop apps and technology that use data to address societal issues.
By Michael Price

Calling all programming whizzes, statistics wonks, data gurus and storytellers. San Diego State University’s Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age will host its first-ever Big Data Hackathon Oct. 3-4 and Oct. 10 to encourage participants to find hidden patterns in data sets. The goal is to create data-based apps, platforms or technology to improve society.

The event is free and open to both students and community members, who will form teams and use a variety of open-source databases to tackle one of three themes:

  • Water conservation and drought
  • Disaster response and assistance
  • Crime monitoring and prevention

For the first two days of the event, teams will decide which theme they want to work on, pore over the commonly available databases and develop some strategy for using the data to promote positive change. Throughout the afternoon, speakers from the academy, industry and public agencies will give talks related to the challenge’s themes.

Groups will present a preliminary proposal on Oct. 4. Those who receive high marks from the judges will continue to hone their ideas over the next week. On Oct. 10, the finalists will submit their final proposals and present their ideas. Judges will award $1,200, $600 and $300 to the teams with the three best proposals, as well as a $200 prize for the best teamwork.

All skills wanted

The organizers of the event stressed that teams need more than just people who are adept at coding software. Good teams might require software expertise, graphic designers, marketing knowhow, geographic information systems knowledge, entrepreneurial experience and journalists to form the project. SDSU faculty and students, as well people from the community, will be mentors to provide technical advice and assistance.

“We don’t want people to think the Hackathon is just for computer programmers,” said geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou, director for the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age and one of the event’s co-organizers. “Even if they don’t know anything about programming, they can still bring their valuable ideas.”

The event’s other co-organizer, Amy Schmitz Weiss, is an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Media Studies and added that it’s especially important for journalists and other kinds of storytellers to participate and improve their understanding of how publicly available data is changing the kinds of stories they can tell.

“We live in a big data world, and the public needs to be open-data literate to understand what is happening in their communities,” Schmitz Weiss said.

Diverse teams

The organizers are also highly encouraging underrepresented minority groups to form or join teams.

“We are quite a diverse community here,” Schmitz Weiss said. “This event allows us to invite everyone in the community to participate and have an opportunity to bring their own skills and learn some new ones.”

Ultimately, Tsou and Schmitz Weiss want the ideas generated by the Hackathon to live beyond the event’s end date and go on to actually help people in the real world. Tsou said he sees the Hackathon as a kind of networking and matchmaking event for entrepreneurs and public agencies.

“The Hackathon will be a success if students collaborate and learn new skills, gain a better understanding of their communities, and create something that helps San Diego,” Schmitz Weiss said.

Visit the Hackathon’s website for more details about the event, including a full agenda, and for information on registering.