11 March 2016: A hacker group for students passionate about technology

By Diyanah Kamarudin (Class of 2018) | Images as credited

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Hrishi Olickel (Class of 2018), co-founder of YNC Hacks, in Yale-NUS’ Fabrication Studio. 

A liberal arts degree is perhaps not what first comes to mind when one thinks about technology. A student club in Yale-NUS College called YNC Hacks, however, would like to change that.

“There is a broad perception that liberal arts and technology are quite far apart,” said Hrishi Olickel (Class of 2018), one of the club’s two founders. “But many studies have shown that liberal arts graduates perform better in the tech world because they can express themselves better, and that is very important in a group setting.”

Hrishi and Parag Bhatnagar (Class of 2017) started YNC Hacks in 2014 in order to connect a small but growing number of students in the College who are passionate about programming and the tech industry. Although the club first started as a hacking space, it quickly turned into an avenue where members could exchange ideas and collaborate on projects.

The club holds many opportunities for members to participate in an exciting range of activities. For example, it regularly conducts workshops for students who would like to hone their computer-coding skills or learn a new programming language.

Members also frequently form smaller teams within the club and participate in local hackathons together. Hackathons are events that allow for computer programmers and coders to work together on projects.

At two years old, the club is still young, but it has already achieved a list of impressive accolades. Members have won in a total of 15 local and international hackathons so far. Most recently, a team from YNC Hacks clinched first place in Startathon held in October 2015.

“None of us were experienced in hackathons when we decided to participate in Startathon,” said Anya Evtushenko (Class of 2017), one of the members of the winning team. “You can imagine how shocked we were to win. We jumped and screamed.”

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The YNC Hacks team won first place in Ideasinc’s Startathon in 2015. Image from Ideasinc Facebook page

The club is also actively engaged in the local and international hacker scene. A few members helped facilitate during Hack & Roll, the biggest student-run hackathon in Singapore, in January 2016. Both Hrishi and Parag are also Ambassadors of Singapore for AngelHack, the world’s largest global hacker community.

Members of YNC Hacks also work on their personal creative projects. Sean Saito (Class of 2017), for example, is spearheading a web application that allows students to look up the availability of professors for office hours in real time. Pratyush More (Class of 2018) and Ross Rauber (Class of 2019) are also working on the app.

“The idea itself was first proposed by Assistant Professor Presolski, and I decided to take it on as a YNC Hacks project so that other programmers could also collaborate to build the product,” Sean said.

As a club, they are collaborating on a few exciting projects with professors and external companies. One team is working with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Dr Michel van Breugel to build automated drones for ecological surveying, while another is collaborating with Bhattacharya Space Enterprises and industry experts in the tech field to organise the first ever Space Hackathon in Singapore.

On campus, YNC Hacks also has its very own hacking space. Named the Fabrication Studio, more affectionately known as the ‘Fab Lab’, the space is equipped with state-of-the-art fabrication tools, 3D printers, as well as CNC (computer numerical control) routers.

As the group grows, Hrishi hopes that it will be able to work more closely with the local tech industry in the future.

“We are also looking into collaborating with similar student hacking clubs from Yale University, and perhaps even conducting our own internal hackathon,” he said.

Watch out for our feature on the Fab Lab, coming to you soon!