Hack Night 2.0

Avatar for Matthew StanciuMatthew Stanciu

On February 17th, 2023, the best Hack Night yet—Hack Night 2.0—ran. In this post, I want to share what made it so great and what you can expect from Hack Night going forward.

A Brief History

Last year, the Purdue Hackers community saw an explosion of growth—50 people August 2021 to 500 people May 2022—but we found it difficult to foster a shared sense of identity and encourage personal projects. We ran workshops every two weeks, but we realized that workshops alone weren't going to get us where we wanted to be.

Last August, we had an idea: what if every Friday night, hackers gathered to hang out and work on creative personal projects together?

We ran the first Hack Night—Hack Night 0.1—on September 16th, 2022. It was a great experiment: 30 people showed up, we had snacks, people had a good time. We could tell it had potential.

Each Hack Night has a version number—for minor changes (AKA typical event), the minor version is bumped; for major changes, the major version is bumped. Hack Night 0.x was the experiment phase: anything could change at any time, and we were constantly trying new things to learn what works.

Hack Night 1.0 introduced two major changes:

  • Sessions: informal & experimental workshops. This can include challenges, dry runs of upcoming workshops, themes, or workshops that don't work as standalone events. Often spearheaded by community members who want to teach something they think others will be excited to learn.
  • Collectible laser-cut badges: Every week, we design a badge for that week's Hack Night and laser cut it. Badges are earned by sharing what you're working on during a Hack Night. No badge will be made or distributed again.

Every Hack Night badge to date

Hack Night 2.0 is the biggest leap yet: our venue moved to the local makerspace, and we were joined by a sponsor, Caesar Creek Software.

The Venue

Hack Nights 0.x and 1.x were held in a classroom in Purdue's Wilmeth Active Learning Center (WALC). WALC is known for modern classrooms with a collaborative environment, which were a great match for Hack Night—but they were still classrooms. We thought we could do better.

Most Purdue students don't know that we have a makerspace on campus, but we do. It's called the Bechtel Innovation Design Center, and it opened in 2020. Every Hack Night badge is made with the nonmetal laser cutter at the Bechtel Center!

The Bechtel Center is a marvelous place. Study spaces of all kinds—desks with computers, couches, collaborative alcoves with TVs, conference rooms, and a kitchen—curve around the entire outer edge of the oval-shaped interior. A continuous glass wall lines the interior of the oval from floor to ceiling; behind it is a room full of all the maker machines you can dream of. It's like a zoo, except instead of animals it's full of maker machines. When I stepped out of my first laser cutting session last November, I knew we needed to run Hack Night here.

The Day Of

Doors opened at 8:00pm, and hackers flooded in. Opening ceremony began at 8:30pm; hacking began 10 minutes later. Pizza, snacks, and cookies arrived just in time.

One group worked on a NeoPixel clock for Lightning Time, a time system created at a previous Hack Night; another group built a camera on a motor that tracked an object in a room; another group made a web app that let you draw by holding your finger up to your webcam.

Two engineers and the Lead Recruiter—a Purdue alum!—from Caesar Creek Software joined us. The engineers told stories from Defcon, provided technical mentorship, and hacked along & hung out with students; the recruiter had awesome & energizing conversations with students, handed out free t-shirts, and put the whole thing together! They were all a wonderful addition—I wish they could be with us every week.

At midnight, we counted down and celebrated 0~0~0, referring to midnight in Lightning Time. This midnight celebration is a Hack Night tradition—but at Hack Night 2.0, it carried an extra sense of excitement.

35 people showed up to Hack Night 2.0. We hacked until 5:00am—the longest Hack Night yet.

What began as an experiment last September has become Purdue Hackers' flagship program. The experiment is paying off: people are making weird, creative, technical projects together every week at Hack Night. Newcomers often come with no expectations but fall into a project or group and stay late into the night, far longer than they were intending. Hack Night 2.0 is a sign that the best is yet to come.

I want to thank Caesar Creek Software for sponsoring this event and sending such wonderful people to hack along with students. They made this event better, and are a model for what a great Hack Night sponsor looks like.

If you go to Purdue, I would love to see you at a future Hack Night. Find out when the next one is happening here.