“Anyone up for starting some kind of Rochester hacker group?” it read.

For a passerby casually perusing the “UR Computer Science” Facebook page, the above comment may have raised some eyebrows. In the media sphere, the term “hacker” often evokes imagery of a computer intruder or criminal seeking to obtain unauthorized access to a machine or network.

But in programmer parlance, this is anything but the case. Indeed, to “hack” means to piece together a creative solution to a technical problem, and a “hacker” commonly denotes someone adept with technology and intimately comfortable with computers.

Two years in, this impromptu Facebook comment helped produce an informal organization on campus called RocHack. On its website, RocHack formally describes itself as “a group of student programmers, hackers, and entrepreneurs” at UR. However, its fundamental audience comprises those who possess a love for technology and an innate interest in building things.

Past RocHack projects include “RocBuses,” a web interface designed to make UR’s shuttle schedule more accessible and user-friendly, and “Cluster Graph,” which allows its users to explore UR’s curriculum through the interconnection of courses and clusters. The common premise of these applications revolves around improving UR web-based services in a more practical manner and enriching the quality of student life in an inventive way.

RocHack members develop the projects, and generally the project’s existence ends up on GitHub, a web-based, code-repository service that manages and stores project revisions. The initial founders — alumni Simon Weber and Andrew Wong ’13, juniors Charles Lehner and Nate Book, and sophomore Steven Gattuso — kicked off the collaboration by sharing links to their GitHub user pages, which gives viewers the chance to see a user’s past and current contributions.

Still, a collection of GitHub interactions can only do so much. In an effort to expand RocHack, Lehner and Gattuso met over the summer to discuss the possibility of a “Hacker Night,” a time set aside each week for RocHack members and anyone interested to listen to technical presentations as well as discuss programming assignments, share ideas on potential projects, and just unwind from work.

Similar gatherings can be found at institutions such as Stanford University, Harvard College, and University of Chicago — and the number of these becoming adopted by undergraduates at other colleges continues to grow as interest in software development rises.

Held every Monday night at 8 p.m. in Hylan Hall, Hacker Nights are informal meetings featuring student-led presentations and demonstrations that have covered topics ranging from test-driven Ruby development to jailbreaking iOS apps.

“[Hacker Nights] promote making software technology as a fun, creative pursuit,” Lehner said. “It gives people a venue to share their projects and interests.”

Gattuso ultimately hopes to strengthen RocHack as a community by holding more events, whether these end up as “hackathons, hacker nights, or just getting together to go rock climbing,” Gattuso said.

Along with the Computer Science Undergraduate Council — of which RocHack considers itself an informal child — RocHack will help host the first annual UR Hackathon on Saturday, Dec. 7. The hackathon, essentially a gathering of teams that compete to create and develop interesting applications, will likely reflect the very idea that RocHack operates on: harnessing a newfound curiosity in coding and driving creativity through the pure act of building… from scratch to fruition.

Kerem is a member of the class of 2015.



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