Hackathon competition well attended by tech and computer whizzes

Dozens of tech and computer whizzes got their creative juices flowing Friday as part of a Westobou Festival competition.

Teeming with computer scientists and programmers, Augusta’s Enterprise Mill was the site of the second annual Rural Sourcing Westobou Hackathon. The goal: design a unique, user-friendly and workable mobile Web site that encompasses the Westobou Festival, a five-day Augusta event full of artistic performances and exhibits.

More than 70 participants from local colleges and Georgia Southern University divided into 11 teams and showcased their innovative abilities for the chance at a paid internship with Rural Sourcing Inc. The Atlanta-based technology firm opened in Augusta two years ago and offers employment in computer coding, software design, security and other IT jobs, which traditionally have been outsourced outside the U.S.

A five-member team of computer science majors from Georgia Regents University wasted no time identifying a strategy as they huddled together to jot down their site’s layout on a pad of paper.

“We’re going to design the whole thing up front,” said senior David Mullens. “After it’s designed, we’ll get a working project. As soon as we get it working, then we’ll make it pretty.”

Each team member was also part of the university’s Association for Computing Machinery, or ACM, chapter. The organization provides students with resources to advance computing as a science and a profession.

Mullens, involved in computer programming for nearly 20 years, has developed various Web sites for class projects. The hardest part, he said, is coming up with an original idea.

Competitors were given four hours to create their mobile sites that highlighted the festival, its schedule, artistic acts and background. A panel of judges then chose a winner based on innovation, user experience, overall quality and impact of pitch.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver attended the hackathon and said events such as these allow the city to foster an ecosystem of tech-related jobs in the community. In 2012, Augusta ranked second in the U.S. for growth of high-tech jobs in the past five years by Engine Advocacy, a group encouraging startups through reshaping government policy.

“It continues to help build that buzz around our technology sector,” Copenhaver said. “The great thing is that’s not just being seen locally. We’ve had companies contact us from San Francisco and Seattle. When San Francisco and Seattle are recognizing that there’s a lot going on in the tech industry in Augusta, Ga., I’d say that’s a good thing.’”

The hackathon event more than tripled participation numbers from its inaugural year when teams created mobile Web sites of Augusta’s historic landmarks, organizers said.

What drew Jonathan Johnson’s three-member team from Georgia Southern to the competition was the opportunity to network with potential employers; winning would be a bonus.

“It’s not really what we’d be after,” said Johnson, a senior majoring in information technology. “If it ends up happening, that’d be cool.”

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