UALR students impress at JOLT Hackathon

Gamemasters at work during recent UALR Hackathon event at The Venture Center in downtown Little Rock. (Photo submitted by The Venture Center)

University of Arkansas at Little Rock students played a key role when competitors from throughout Arkansas gathered for a unique cyber security-themed “hackathon.”

The JOLT Hackathon, a 24-hour capture-the-flag competition held Oct. 17 at The Venture Center in downtown Little Rock was the first of its kind in the state.

As the state’s best and brightest software developers, engineers, and students gathered for a “game of codes” that featured technical puzzles of increasing difficulty, a group from UALR worked behind the scenes challenging competitors with progressively more complex puzzles.

UALR Cyber Security Club members and local technology professionals served as “puzzle masters,” monitoring the game as it unfolded and deploying additional puzzles and clues to make the experience truly responsive for competitors.

“The UALR Cyber Security Club students were impressive,” said Venture Center President and CEO Lee Watson. “Many of them stayed up more than 40 hours, preparing puzzles and then monitoring and supporting the actual competition itself.”

UALR puzzle masters included UALR students Dylan Hailey, Tommy Haycraft, Andrew Lewis, and Brandon Gray. UALR IT staff member Daniel Spillers also helped with the competition.

“It was an experience to see so many people come together and show their support for a growing tech community,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to have it here in the heart of Arkansas.”

Community engagement and service are part of the program with the Cyber Security Club, said Dr. Mengjun Xie, co-adviser of the club and UALR assistant professor of computer science.

“This collaboration with Arkansas Venture Center on the JOLT Hackathon event demonstrates our expertise in computing and security education, and our commitment to promoting the public’s awareness of security and engaging the public with cyber security practices,” Xie said.

Dr. Kenji Yoshigoe, chair of the UALR Department of Computer Science, also is a club adviser.

UALR students involved in the recent JOLT Hackathon are pictured with university leaders and others who led or participated in the event run by The Venture Center. (Not pictured: student Tommy Haycraft)
UALR students involved in the recent JOLT Hackathon are pictured with university leaders and others who led or participated in the event run by The Venture Center. (Not pictured: student Tommy Haycraft )

JOLT provided participants the chance to hone established technical abilities as they developed practical soft skills like teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Competitors included a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and they worked in diverse teams with varied skills.

Students from Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts (ASMSA), as well as seasoned professionals from the Little Rock-area community, joined the competition.

“I’m glad to see something like this taking place in Arkansas,” Gray said. “This is the first competition like this that I can remember, so I hope this grows into something grander.”

The competing team with the most completed puzzles at the end of the 24 hours won. Following the event, that honor belonged to the “Space Goats,” a group of local professionals who narrowly defeated “That One Team” from ASMSA to claim bragging rights and the JOLT title.

Watson said programs like JOLT enhance the growing technology community in Little Rock.

“In order to build viable, scalable, and investable companies, we have to attract, develop, and retain technical talent,” Watson said.

IBM Bluemix, a service cloud product from IBM, allowed participants to work and compete on a real-world platform and environment, developing and honing skills relevant to the current market and technology landscape.

The Venture Center provides expertise and solutions for partners in business, government and education to bolster the economic development of Central Arkansas.

To learn more about The Venture Center, visit its website.

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