Students, get ready to code at ShellHacks, Florida’s largest hackathon

Tip: Besides your laptop, bring an inflatable mattress for short naps, a resume and an open mind. Here’s everything you need to know as a participant at ShellHacks.

By Krysten Brenlla

A weekend with no sleep, caffeine, recruiters and engineers is what students can expect during this year’s ShellHacks, the largest hackathon in Florida.

ShellHacks, which has attracted thousands of participants since 2017, is built by students, for students. Student leaders connect with sponsors/donors and fundraise all year long to attract participants for a weekend filled with code-building, projects, app development, website development, networking, workshops, and more.

Hosted by INIT FIU, which was founded by the student and alumni leaders behind the Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) organization at Florida International University (FIU), ShellHacks gathers students of all levels to hack-the-weekend-away in a collaborative environment alongside their peers from local colleges and universities across Florida. Sponsors of the event include national organizations, like title sponsor Microsoft, Google, Vanguard, and Waymo, and other local companies like Bitstop, Schonfield, Lab22c, a Miami startup focused on connecting local talent to great careers, and Addigy, a cloud-based Apple device management software.

Refresh Miami sat down with Andy Garcia, INIT FIU chapter president and co-founder of INIT National and an FIU senior studying information technology and international relations, and Laura Castro, director of ShellHacks and an FIU junior studying computer science and mathematics, to learn more about this year’s hackathon weekend.

What should participants expect from INIT FIU and ShellHacks this year?

Andy Garcia: At INIT, we pride ourselves on continuing the same, inclusive community that empowers students to achieve economic mobility by connecting them to internships and jobs throughout their academic careers. We’re now able to expand and target different chapters and bring them into the fold, and we’re expanding our mission to not just be a benefit for FIU students, but for other students across Miami-Dade.

At INIT FIU, we host 4-6 in-person events per week during the fall and spring semesters that are open to all college and university students. These events range from technical and upskilling workshops, to industry information sessions, and more. Students can register free at our INIT website.

Andy Garcia, INIT FIU chapter president

Laura Castro:  During this year’s ShellHacks, we have activities planned for students all weekend. Friday is the big day with the opening ceremony, where sponsors will take the stage to introduce themselves, speak on their companies and their challenges for participants throughout the weekend, and then from 9 – 11 p.m. is the career fair, which is peak networking time for students. On Saturday, students can participate in workshops hosted by our sponsors, from UI/UX workshops, to game design, artificial intelligence, IT / cybersecurity workshops, and more. That’s what students can expect, along with free food and energy drinks to get them to stay awake as long as possible. There’s workshops and activities throughout the entire night – we want students to bring their blankets, comforters, sleeping bags, and air mattresses to get the full experience all weekend long.

And on Sunday, after 36 hours at ShellHacks, the students will submit their projects by noon. Deliberation from engineers and student leadership then begins, where we’ll pick the top projects for students to demo. During the closing ceremony, we’ll announce the winners of ShellHacks. Prizes can range from $1,000 gift cards to final round interviews at companies like Microsoft or Google, which just further exemplifies how companies are collaborating with us to boost the talent pipeline.

Laura Castro, Director of ShellHacks

How should participants prepare for ShellHacks?

Laura Castro: We always suggest that participants should print out their resumes to get feedback from engineers, recruiters, and sponsors who will be at ShellHacks all weekend. There will be so many full-time engineers at ShellHacks, and they really want to help the students. Print out your resume, bring a marker, and have recruiters mark it up for feedback.

We also suggest that participants bring an inflatable mattress or something comfortable to take a quick nap throughout the weekend. The venue will be open 24/7; we want people to sleep there and get the most of their experience at ShellHacks.

We also want participants to bring an open mind. They’re going to meet so many people – we always encourage participants to talk to the sponsors, ask questions, and go to the workshops. There’s going to be hacking, coding, and participants will be surrounded by people who want them to succeed. Submit something; you never know what can happen. It’s such a welcoming environment; there’s so much to do to build and get to know our Miami Tech community.

What are some projects you’re looking forward to seeing?

Laura Castro: Challenges are kept secret, but artificial intelligence has been really booming. We’re excited to see what people create with that; we’re always surprised to see new AI products and how hackers find new ways to incorporate AI with current products.

How can students get involved with technology beyond ShellHacks?

Andy Garcia: All the events that we host at INIT are open and free for any student to check out. It doesn’t matter where they’re from; they’re more than welcome to participate in our workshops throughout the entire year. We have so many exciting workshops coming up with companies like Netflix and Onshape; we’re building a ton of signature events in the South Florida tech community with a focus on student learning and development that we’re extremely excited about.

If there’s any students interested in starting an INIT chapter at their school, please reach out to us. We’re always looking for new student leaders to build chapters at their schools to continue building out that South Florida tech talent pipeline.

ShellHacks will be in-person this year, September 15 – 17, and will take place at the Kovens Conference Center, located at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus (3000 NE 151st St., North Miami, FL. 33181). Students must register (for free) at www.shellhacks.net to participate. Upon registration, participants will receive a hacker guide, which can be found in the participant’s online dashboard. The hacker guide will include a detailed itinerary, preparation guidelines, event agenda, and more.

For more information on this year’s ShellHacks, visit their website at www.shellhacks.net.

Students take part in the 2022 ShellHacks hackathon here and in the photo at top of this post.
Krysten Brenlla