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Local company Dyn hosts 'Hackademy'

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 17. 2015 7:53PM
Dyn Hackademy participant Daniel Puckowski of Champlain College calls up the winning math-education app on Sunday, at Dyn headquarters. MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER 

Dyn Hackademy participants Taylor Langlois, center, and Maryann O'Connell of Northern Essex Community College check a call phone app next to the Dyn foosball table on Sunday. MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER

MANCHESTER — Get together about 21 technology-loving college students for a long weekend and you might just create more technology-loving college students.

Students from several New England colleges gathered in Manchester over the weekend for a four-day "Hackademy" at the Internet performance company Dyn. The weekend ended with six teams developing software apps to help teach middle school students math, and possibly make mathematics and technology fields more alluring to sixth-graders.

On Saturday, the teams spent about 12 hours working on their project. On Sunday, winners were announced.

“It’s fun. I didn’t expect this, the company dynamic, how they treated us so well,” said Tam Nguyen, a resident of Worcester, Mass., and a student at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

Nguyen and her team won the top prize for their Secret Agent app, which tries to discourage middle schoolers from lunging for a calculator when they’re struggling with fundamentals in mathematics.

The app — which has thousands of lines of code — uses correct answers in mathematical problems to decode an encrypted message.

“The Romans used this kind of stuff. It’s nothing the NSA is using, that’s for sure,” said Daniel Puckowski, a student at Champlain College.

This is the third year that Dyn has hosted a Hackademy. Last year, participants developed apps for nonprofit organizations, and three of those apps are available through the Apple app store.

This year’s topic recognizes Gov. Maggie Hassan’s emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and participants had to tackle math education, said Ali Rafieymehr, the dean of the company’s Dyn University.

Participants had to be enrolled in a technology or education major. They needed a nomination from their teacher. Their grade-point average had to be 2.7 or higher. And they had to submit an essay.

The event started with a meeting with area high-school math teachers. Seminars followed on Friday, and Friday ended with a night of bowling.

“It’s a great way to meet other students, network and see what it’s about in a real world environment,” said Adrianna Holden-Gouveia, a computer science instructor at Northern Essex Community College, which entered three students in the Hackademy.

She said students have projects and labs in school, but the weekend format was faster.

“With this you only have a day to work on it. Actual people will potentially get to use this,” she said.

A handful of Dyn workers, including company founder Jeremy Hitchcock, judged the software entries. And they got to network with future tech workers, which can be hard to find.

“At this point, we have a relationship already,” Hitchcock said, “It’s an early exposure: we get to them and they get to us.”

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