HackYale reimagines web education

The five team members behind HackYale, the University’s newest student-run class on Web startups, are hoping to cultivate a community of programmers.

HackYale, which held its first session last Wednesday, teaches web development to students with any level of coding experience. The course is geared toward entrepreneurs and will offer weekly lessons on programming to two class sections capped at 25 students, with workshops open to the Yale community on the weekends. Two of the program’s directors said the class will help brand-new programmers access the tools they need to create online applications, while also showing more experienced programmers how to polish complex Web startups.

“[Yale] could be an absolute hotbed for startup companies,” HackYale co-director Will Gaybrick LAW ’12 said. “The [programming] scene needs to be jump-started.”

Bay Gross ’13, another HackYale co-director, said the program received about 500 applicants for 50 slots. Applications were selected based on the applicants’ demonstrated interest, with a slight advantage given to juniors and seniors, and ultimately members were chosen from a lottery, Gross added.

If student interest continues to grow, Gross said the HackYale team hopes to run the program again in the spring with additional student staff leading classes each week.

The class is called “HackYale” because the word “hacking” refers to rethinking old problems in technology, not using computers maliciously, Gross said.

The computer science courses at Yale that teach programming tend to focus on computer theory, Gross said. But HackYale will address practical uses of programming, such as website design, Gross and Gaybrick added.

“We want to be practical to a fault,” Gaybrick said. “We want to let the theory emerge from practice.”

Professor Stanley Eisenstat, director of undergraduate studies for Yale’s Computer Science Department, said that the department’s focus is the science that underlies the Web, rather than teaching specific programming languages. He added that the department focuses on the basics behind computers so that any newer technologies, like programming languages, can then be learned more quickly.

The 10-week HackYale course will walk students through the basics of five Web languages, helping students to design their own projects and encouraging each member to complete a single polished Web application. Students will have two to four hours of homework a week: the first assignment asked students to develop a static website, Gross said.

The program is modeled on an introductory computer science lecture at Harvard, which is available for free online and also covers both theoretical and practical aspects of Web design, Gaybrick said.

Though the skills for Web development change rapidly, Gross said learning those skills now will help students adapt in the future.

“Once you know a lot of [programming] languages, it’s easy to pick up another one,” Gross said. “But those first resources are kind of hard to come by. You have to go out and teach yourself.”

A computer science major, Gross has been developing web applications for about two years and said he — like most programmers — largely picked up the skills on his own. Gross has created several websites that include HardlyWork.in, which displays Facebook accounts as Microsoft Office spreadsheets. Gaybrick has worked at Web startups such as Jumo.com, a social network service that was created by one of Facebook’s founders, Chris Hughes.

Colby Brown ’13, who was admitted to HackYale, said the practical nature of the course complements the theoretical knowledge he learned in his introductory Yale course on the subject. That foundation has helped him learned faster in HackYale, he said.

“I feel like you’re accomplishing more,” Brown said. “[In Intro to Programming] you’re banging your head against the wall over something that could have taken five seconds to figure out … Here you’re building off existing knowledge.”

HackYale attendee Sherwin Yu ’12, who is majoring in computer science, said he has yet to learn the practical tools for Web development, though he has been programming since the eighth grade and interned at Google in the summer of 2010. Yu said he hopes this class will help increase the presence of Web developers in the Yale community.

Video lectures from HackYale will be posted online for free in the coming weeks.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article paraphrased Colby Brown ’13 as saying that “the student-run program is teaching him programming basics more quickly than his introductory Yale class on the subject.” Brown later clarified that the theoretical knowledge from his Yale computer science coursework has prepared him well for the HackYale instruction.

Comments

  • mbwcdw

    The choice of name is most unfortunate given the commonly accepted meaning of “hack.”
    C. Daniel Ward, 1955

  • River_Tam

    > Colby Brown ’13, who was admitted to HackYale, said he thinks the student-run program is teaching him programming basics more quickly than his introductory Yale class on the subject.

    Scheme is hard, let’s go shopping!

  • colbs

    Colby Brown ’13, who was admitted to HackYale, said he thinks the student-run program is teaching *him programming basics more quickly an his introductory Yale class on the subject.*

    I at no point said this; in fact, I was explaining the direct opposite. I stated that Introduction to Programming has enabled me to more easily and fully understand the symbols and language of the computer languages we are being introduced to in this course. (As a complete Newb, I would have been completely lost had I not had the experience from my even programming course) Thisquote is not accurate as paraphrasing. I support completely and wholeheartedly the theoretical teaching method of the Computer Science department. HackYale is a positive addition to Yale offerings, but it is not a replacement for CS.

    My statement related to “banging your head against a wall” was related to one’s perception of progress in the course, which is of course greater since we are dealing with complex languages and software already built by other talented programmers.

    I would appreciate it if the YDN would produce more faithful reproductions of the interviews they conduct in the future. (And to not make the individuals they interview sound like idiots.)

  • JohnnyE

    Agh, useful skills? Get this away from our liberal arts institution!