Skills Ontario Gold Medalist Strikes it Big at Hack-A-Thon
Windsor, ON - Just like the witches in "The Wizard of Oz", there are good hackers and bad hackers in the world. St. Clair's Devin Pavao is a very, very good hacker.

In the mainstream media, the term "hacking" most often appears in its negative sense: "to circumvent security and break into a server or website with malicious intent". But, in the world of electronic professionals, "hacking" means the process of creativity: the invention-from-scratch of a computer program, or the clever improvement of an existing one.

In the mainstream media, the term "hacking" most often appears in its negative sense: "to circumvent security and break into a server or website with malicious intent". But, in the world of electronic professionals, "hacking" means the process of creativity: the invention-from-scratch of a computer program, or the clever improvement of an existing one.

It was the latter process that was on display at the University of Waterloo on the September 19-21 weekend where they hosted 1,000 computer programming and app-development innovators - most of them students - at the first annual "Hack The North Hackathon".

After the fact, it was praised as probably the largest gathering of its technological sort in Canadian history - and one of the best organized, most innovative get-togethers in North America.

Approximately a third of the 1,000 attendees were from the United States, and others flew in from South Korea, China, Brazil and a number of other overseas nations.

Among that throng was Devin Pavao, a second-year student in St. Clair's Internet Applications and Web Development program. It had already been a pretty eventful year for Devin. In May, he won a silver medal in the Website Development category of the annual Ontario Skills competition (also staged in Waterloo).

Devin Pavao, Robert Nguyen and Paula Barcante
Left to Rright: Devin Pavao with teammates Robert Nguyen of California
and Paula Barcante of British Columbia

He departed Hack The North with potential interest from a software company in the continued development of a web application that was unveiled during the hackathon. Teamed with fellow students Robert Nguyen of California and Paula Barcante of British Columbia the trio came up with "Korral" an app concept that will continuously bookmark electronic items-of-interest by building a portfolio that gathers items into a personal archive - subdivided into videos, tutorials, news-articles, or academic research as examples.

Korral Login Screen

Every once in a while, the app will send you a reminder about the item that you found so interesting, so that you can review it and maybe seek (or make) updates about the topic. If you disregard such reminders repeatedly, the app will eventually (and automatically) delete the item. At the end of the event, the team walked away with serious interest in the app. "It's not a situation of 'We'll buy that - here's a bunch of money'," Devin said in a recent interview. "We have the possibility of tapping into the company's tools, advice, mentorship, know-how and stepping-stone support. I'm going to keep working with Robert and Paula, and we've probably still got at least six months of work left before the app is completed.”

The one thing that stuck out in Devin’s mind as the amount of corporate clients there looking for ideas and potential - not necessarily at finalized products. "The fact that our idea was of interest to one of those companies was just phenomenal. It should be very inspiring to students in this field that you can do all sorts of things without having to worry about sponsorship from the outset."

The professional networking opportunities were, likewise, unprecedented. "Hardware and software companies, app developers, website companies - all of the biggest companies in the industry were there," Devin said. "Most of them were taking resumes on the spot. You could even submit your resume to a central registry, and it would be distributed for internship openings, or even just to have your resume critiqued."

In the wider realm, Hack The North really served to put Canada on the "app-map". "That world, professionally, is still pretty much dominated by Silicon Valley in the U.S.," Devin said. "A well-organized event of this size, with so much corporate backing and involvement, made a lot of people realize that Canada is interested in high-tech after all, and really has a great deal of expertise to offer. And not just the University of Waterloo benefited from the exposure - I think a lot of the international students who attended may start looking at Canadian schools to pursue their educations."

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