First-ever virtual RamHacks sets new records

RamHacks student organizers Mohammad Malik and John Naylor hosted the closing ceremony and award announcement at the virtual event.
RamHacks student organizers Mohammad Malik and John Naylor hosted the closing ceremony and award announcement at the virtual event.

New milestones and broken records were the theme at RamHacks 2020, the computer science hackathon presented by VCU Engineering’s Department of Computer Science Sept. 26 and 27. 

For the first time in its seven-year history, the popular coding and programming showdown was held virtually — a change in venue that smashed previous participation records by attracting participants from all over the U.S., as well as Mexico and Canada. 

More than 400 competitors (up from 330 last year) teamed up to design and code innovative solutions to real problems, including challenges presented by event sponsors such as CarMax, Altria and Capital One. At stake were bragging rights, plus $18,000 in prizes (up from $13,000 in 2019).  

“The increasing number of participants is raising the bar,” said Alberto Cano, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science and RamHacks faculty adviser. “We received the best quality of innovations yet from all over the U.S. and beyond this year.”

Student teams developed 44 new technologies in just 24 hours. Many were solutions to challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first-place winner, Precise Fit, is an app that helps elderly, housebound people keep fit by monitoring and evaluating their posture during virtual training sessions.    

Other winners included an app that uploads a handwritten grocery list and turns it into an online grocery order, an Airbnb-like mobile platform for sharing parking spaces and an educational tool that turns chemistry concepts into a video game. 

The virtual nature of RamHacks 2020 meant that much of it was captured by video, including sponsor challenges as well as opening and closing ceremonies hosted by RamHacks student organizers Mohammad Malik and John Naylor. 

“John and I had less than two minutes to prepare going into that livestream,” Malik said. “Our goal was to just let it flow naturally, and I guess our friendship just helped everything roll smoothly!”

For his part, Naylor, a RamHacks veteran, enjoyed the new twist on this year’s event. 

“RamHacks 2020 was such a fun event to organize, and it was my pleasure to be a part of the first-ever entirely virtual RamHacks,” Naylor said. “I appreciate the College of Engineering’s support in helping us make this happen.” 

Next year’s RamHacks is expected to take place in the college’s soon-to-open Engineering Research Building, making RamHacks 2020 — “the virtual RamHacks” — a rare, even historic, event. 

Krzysztof “Krys” Cios, Ph.D., D.Sc., M.B.A., professor and chair of VCU’s Department of Computer Science, thinks the success of RamHacks 2020 says something about VCU Engineering and its computer science program.

"RamHacks was made possible by our excellent and enthusiastic computer science students and faculty members,” Cios said. “It is a student-run event with great coaching and attention to detail provided by its long-time advisor, Dr. Alberto Cano.”