HackTX 2018

It’s time for a change

Registration for HackTX 2018 is opening on Friday (9/7), but don’t panic yet. Actually, don’t panic at all. Unlike previous years, our admissions process is no longer centered on first-come, first-serve applications. Yes, you read that correctly! With a brand new team, we’ve decided to push HackTX in a new direction for 2018. We can’t wait for you all to see what we have in store for you this year!

Wait, what’s HackTX?

HackTX is a 24-hour hackathon run by students at The University of Texas at Austin. On campus we’re known as the Freetail Hackers, a student organization that loves to help students pursue an active role in their educations, specifically in technology, specifically through hackathons. Hackathons provide an environment away from the distractions of life to give participants 24+ hours all to themselves. You can use the time to bring an idea to life, learn a new skill, attend a company-sponsored workshop, and work closely on a team. Regardless of background and skill level, anyone can walk away from the event having gained something new —the space and resources provided guarantee it. Oh, and by resources we mean free meals and unlimited snacks.

So what’s new?

As mentioned earlier, we’ve got some new changes to roll out for HackTX this year. We’ve had great successes with previous iterations of HackTX, and we definitely wouldn’t have made it this far without the help of all the previous organizers and leaders who set the foundation for us; however, we want to mix things up and explore new ways we can make our event a better experience. Here are two of the ways we’re doing that.

Admissions Process

We believe that every student has the potential to succeed in tech, and we want people to apply without fear of what skills they bring and instead with confidence of what skills they can gain.

Previously, a large percentage of our applicant pool was accepted automatically into HackTX on a first-come, first-serve basis. This meant that the first _% of eager hackers who applied to our event got in, and those who did not apply early enough were not guaranteed an acceptance. There are a few reasons why this was used:

  1. This system rewarded those who showed their enthusiasm for the event and applied when it opened. It’s like applying to colleges through early action, or pitching a tent outside Target before Black Friday. It’s evident that if you did it, you wanted it.
  2. This admissions process was not unusual for hackathons years ago. This year marks the 6th year of HackTX but will be the 1st year without first-come, first-serve admissions.

As the number of applicants to HackTX grew over the years, we’ve run into several issues. Scalability of our registration portal handled a heavy test last year when around 2000 people tried registering at the same time. We have also received complaints about registration opening up during class times. This year, we want to do away with these problems and make it clear to applicants that HackTX is a place for all students (18+ years of age and in college).

We’ll now be admitting people based on a random lottery selection that gives every applicant a chance of admission. Whether you’re new to the hackathon scene or have won a dozen of them, we encourage you to apply! We believe that every student has the potential to succeed in tech, and we want people to apply without fear of what skills they bring and instead with confidence of what skills they can gain. Instead of showing your excitement by refreshing our registration page for 15 minutes straight, plan ahead for the event. Find some teammates, brainstorm an idea, maybe even plan out a possible implementation. And finally, just finally, put the same effort into your application. Registration is open earlier than it was in the past and it will stay open longer than it did in the past, so there’s no need to rush to finish it. And if you end up getting an invitation to HackTX, you might just find yourself set up for success.

Venue

Last year, we experienced the best worst problem we could’ve experienced — our venue was too small. This wasn’t due to poor logistical planning, we had almost 73% of people who RSVPed to our event show up, which is way above the average turnout rate for hackathons. To fix this problem, we’ve booked the Zlotnik Family Ballroom at The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. This 15,000 sq.ft. ballroom opened earlier this spring and will finally provide enough space for us to hold all our hackers in one room. The best part about this venue? It’s still on campus and a very walkable distance away from dorms and west campus apartments.

Puzzles

Every year, our friends at HackMIT release a couple of puzzles that, when completed, grants its solvers automatic acceptance into their event. We love this idea, and we think it’s a great way to reward the super eager hackers. This year, our team decided to try this out on our own. We’ll be releasing a couple of our puzzles on our website soon, so stay tuned for more details on this! If you’re feeling courageous, we encourage you to try your hand at these puzzles. We will be inviting some of the first few people who solve these puzzles to HackTX this year, regardless of whether you get in through our admissions process or not. Normal rules apply — you must be 18+ years old and a college student, no exceptions.

CTF

This year we’re partnering with another student organization on campus called ISSS to put on the first ever CTF at HackTX, HackTXCTF. For those of you who aren’t sure what a CTF is, a “Capture the Flag” is a hacking and computer security contest. Strings of text, referred to as “flags,” are hidden or encrypted in a series of puzzles and challenges. During the competition, participants try to decrypt, hack, reverse-engineer, or exploit challenges in order to gain access to these flags, which in return give you points you need to win. ISSS regularly hosts events like this to students, so they’re used to catering the challenges to students with all levels of security knowledge. You don’t have to be a 1337 h4x0r to participate!

There are lots of other changes coming, I wish I could announce them all 🤐. Our team is working super hard to make them happen, so if you’re excited about these new changes or want more updates about HackTX, let us know in the comments or hit that 👏 button.

TL;DR — We have a new random lottery admissions process, our new venue is incredible, puzzles up on the website soon, CTF at HackTX!!

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to send them to hello@freetailhackers.com or leave a comment below. You can also follow us on Facebook here and here. Thanks for reading!