Hacking Yale, part II

When’s the last time a problem set inspired you to launch an entire entrepreneurial endeavor? That’s precisely what happened last semester to Will Moritz, TC ’12, while auditing HackYale’s inaugural lecture series on web development. The entirely student-run program began last fall with an introductory course on how to code web pages. “I wasn’t really thinking about programming in September,” Moritz recalled. But after the course’s second problem set asked him to create a basic website layout, he found himself longing to take his newly acquired skills a step further.

This winter break he began work on his own web app, which will enable Yale students with cars on campus to connect with other students who wish to borrow them. He’s also pursuing an internship that requires programming proficiency, a qualification he wouldn’t have without  having enrolled in HackYale.

Will is just one of the dozens of Yale students who have capitalized on the striking effort by the program’s directors to tap into a campus full of potential entrepreneurs. “I strongly believe in the human capital side of learning,” says co-director Will Gaybrick, LAW ’12. “There is a big open-source ethos to everything we do.” As the program kicks off its second semester, students of all different academic backgrounds are flocking to join the growing community of techno-wizards. The recent surge of interest is no wonder, as first-semester hackers have written quality apps with only a few months of programming experience. Co-director Bay Gross, DC ’13, says that the decision to impart the program founders’ computer expertise to the student body stemmed from “the huge disconnect between people wanting to learn these skills and effective resources on campus.” Gaybrick and Gross both emphasize the value of an empirical approach to teaching technological skills to students who will soon find themselves in the job market.

There is a twofold benefit to such an approach: HackYale gives students a foothold in the increasing number of industries that call for technical competency and, in turn, students start off by designing useful apps for their fellow students. Moritz’s car-borrowing app is just one example.

Gross’s past projects have helped Yalies sublet off-campus apartments and even determine whether or not chicken tenders are being served in dining halls. And HackYale teacher and student Zack Reneau-Wedeen, TC ’14, together with his friend Rafi Khan, PC ’15, founded onTapp, an app that aims to make eating out in New Haven easier and more enjoyable.

Judging by HackYale’s influence on Yale students, it seems that its greatest value lies not in its classes or the knowledge students gain from them, but in its ability to instill in potential Yale hackers the drive to design, create, and launch projects that they had only ever dreamed about. “The grand goal with respect to Yale in particular is to foment grassroots enthusiasm for this subject matter and these endeavors,” says Gaybrick. As technological enthusiasm pervades campus, it looks as though HackYale’s efforts are certainly paying off.

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