More than eighty data science enthusiasts competed at the fifth annual hackathon hosted at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business.

Data Hackers tackle real world data problems at the Data Science Hackathon

June 22, 2022 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

Southern California data science experts came together with graduate students in early April to solve data problems, learn new skills, and forge community connections as part of a Data Science Hackathon event.

More than 80 attended the event, which was organized by data the science organization called SoCal R Users Group, or RUG in partnership with the Merage Analytics Club. The SoCal RUG was started seven years ago to explore and discuss the programming language R, and how it is being used in data science, data analysis, visualization, data mining and predictive analytics.

The group regularly hosts events to engage with its more than 1,000 members. This was the fifth annual hackathon event from the group, though it’s the first time they have been able to meet since COVID-19 restrictions were initiated in 2020.

John Peach, who was one of the organizers of the event, said the hackathon provided a setting where attendees could “gather as a community, network, solve real-world problems and of course, have fun.”

The event was open to hackers of all levels, including beginners. During the first day of the event, attendees took part in educational tutorials to learn the fundamentals of data analysis using the R programming language. They learned about data manipulation using tools like dplyr, tidyr, ggplot2 and tidymodels. Then, the data that participants would be hacking during the weekend event was unveiled. The data was meant to mirror the type of work that industry experts deal with on a regular basis, so it was messy and disorganized. Attendees then formed small teams and hacked the data well into the evening. Throughout the event, mentors went from room to room to offer guidance on the questions.

“We love to support these students and more importantly bring them real world problems to help prepare them for jobs that are waiting for them after graduation,” Peach said.

On Saturday evening, the event shifted into a Data Challenge where participants formed into small teams to answer a data related question within just a few minutes each. Participants would then change teams and tackle the next question. This allowed attendees to work with an array of different people and network. For each correct answer a participant would accumulate tickets to increase their chances to win a prize in a giveaway.

Although the hackathon included prizes, it was more geared towards being an educational event rather than a competition.

“The room is filled with all sorts of coders with different skill sets and this event brings those folks together and work towards the same goal,” Peach said. “…This was a very intense team effort in a very short period of time.”

During the second day of the event, teams put together five-minute presentations, which were evaluated by judges from UCI, Saddleback Community College, and Cal State Long Beach. Teams could claim a host of prizes, including drones and data science books. The Anaheim Ducks offered tickets to games and Saturn Cloud provided a free lifetime cloud computing account. The prizes were given out for best presentation, best analysis, best insight and best visualization.

Other sponsors of the event included Amazon Web Services, R Consortium, RStudio and Taylor and Francis.

Lisa Shulman, associate director of recruitment and admission for the UCI Master of Science in Business Analytics, said that there was an air of excitement throughout the weekend festivities.

“From a recruitment and admissions perspective, our prospects and students see this collaboration as a huge incentive when they looked into joining our Masters of Science in Business Analytics program,” Shulman said. “We look forward to continuing the tradition going forward.”