Concordia junior Austin Winkler has proven that he can more than hack it.


Austin Winkler’s teammates hard at work during HackMIT 2019.

Pitted against the world’s most elite undergraduate programmers, Austin Winkler went 36 hours straight without sleep last weekend to design, with the help of his teammates from Texas, North Carolina, and India, the framework of an Android application similar to Trivago where, through the use of virtual reality, users could “see” a full view of their hotels before booking.

The effort was part of a prestigious, immersive learning experience hosted by MIT. “HackMIT 2019” drew 1,200 students from MIT and schools worldwide and charged participants to concept and create (or “hack”) a real product within 24 hours following the theme, “Hacking for a Reason.”

HackMIT is one of the most prestigious hackathons in the world, and is annually sponsored by tech giants such as Nasdaq, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. The top three winners take home prizes of up to $1,000. Regardless of whether a participant walks away with a win though, the chance to attend is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Only half of this year’s 1,200 spots were opened to non-MIT students, and last year, MIT reported that more than 6,000 students from around the globe applied to participate.

This year, Winkler demonstrated he had the acumen and stamina to claim one of those coveted spots.

Never mind that it cost him nearly a full weekend without sleep. “When you get an invite to MIT, you don’t say ‘no,’” Winkler said.

The MIT competition was Winkler’s first juried hackathon, though he’s participated in a handful that have been hosted by Concordia’s computer science department over the years. Those proved vital in preparing him for the “main stage,” said Winkler.

HackMIT 2019 served to spur Winkler’s enthusiasm for other off-campus hackathons. Today, Winkler and a dozen other Concordia computer science students are participating in the first day of PygHack, a hackathon that’s put on as part of Urbana, Illinois’ annual Pygmalion Festival. He’s also applied to participate in HackTX, which takes place at the University of Texas at Austin Nov. 2-3.

“Hackathons are a fun way to apply what you’ve learned in your classes,” Winkler said. “My classes at Concordia have allowed me to learn the building blocks of programming, and then my hackathon experiences have helped me apply those lessons to the real world. You get to kind of stretch those creative muscles—both with making something new and with working as a team.”

Contact Michael.Litman@cuw.edu for more information on the Concordia’s hosted events.

— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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