By: Tehreem Kham | UAB News | Birmingham Times

The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s team of four Department of Computer Science students was the top winner at Auburn Hacks 2024, the state of Alabama’s largest hackathon, along with an award for the best use of MongoDB, a developer data platform.

At Auburn Hacks 2024, a 24-hour event where students from universities across the Southeast united to build technical projects, the UAB team stood out among others by utilizing core engineering and hacking into a practical program to develop a project with real-world applications.

The team created a resume feedback website allowing users to enter their resume and a job description to get personalized, immediate feedback. The feedback will be tailored to the role the user is applying for, and it will also advise on things to improve and edit, alongside guiding the user if they are a good fit for the role.

“I am so proud of the hard work of these students,” said Department Chair Yuliang Zheng, Ph.D. “Students in our computer science program experience comprehensive education, thanks to our balanced curriculum. We place a strong emphasis on cultivating theoretical knowledge and technical skills in computing alongside hands-on experience to develop vital soft skills in our students. This holistic approach equips our students with the proficiency to apply cutting-edge knowledge to innovate solutions to real-world problems. “The winning team included the following College of Arts and Sciences students:

  • Michael Gathara of Hoover, Alabama, a second-semester graduate student in computer science.
  • Sowmith Kunapaneni of Vijayawada, India, a first-year doctoral student in computer science.
  • AJ Nettles of Monroeville, Alabama, a second-year graduate student in cybersecurity and a student of the National Science Foundation Cybercorps: Scholarship for Service Program at UAB.
  • Akshar Patel of Montgomery, Alabama, a computer science senior and an Honors College student in the Science and Technology Honors Program.

The hackathon provided a collaborative environment for Gathara, competitive energy for Nettles, an opportunity to innovate for Kunapaneni, an opportunity to learn and apply niche computer science skills for Patel, and a unique, fun experience for all, according to these students.

Learn more about computer science degrees and careers here.

Applying computer science knowledge

Auburn Hacks presented an opportunity for these students to apply what they learned in their classes to real-world problems and develop an innovative project. They used class knowledge from their natural language processing courses taught by John Osborne, Ph.D., assistant professor, and artificial intelligence courses taught by Thomas Gilray, Ph.D., assistant professor.

“UAB’s computer science classes equipped me with the knowledge needed for this competition,” Gathara said. “The two classes that shine are NLP and AI. Our project dealt with both AI and, more specifically, the NLP subset of AI. The concepts I learned in these classes directly translated into the program that we built.”

A major part of Patel’s portion of the project was a top-down parser that would analyze and break down code or text data into individual components that are easy to understand or process.

“I would not have been able to do this if it were not for the automata and the programming languages courses, which exposed me to making parsers,” Patel said.

Working in the High Performance Automated Reasoning Lab under Gilray and taking graduate courses helped Kunapaneni develop problem-solving skills especially required to understand different perspectives toward solving the same problems.

Lessons from the hackathon

The students say this rigorous project-building competition at Auburn Hacks has taught them lifelong lessons, furthering their innovative and collaborative skills.

“My biggest takeaway was how to communicate within a team to put together a product in a short period,” Gathara said.

For Nettles, the biggest lesson was the value of interdisciplinary collaboration as the competition featured coders from multiple fields ranging from engineering to psychology. He found that constant communication and working alongside driven peers can go a long way when working on a passion project.

“We had only 24 hours to focus on one project, which meant having something viable quickly, and then iterating to make it better rather than trying to solve it all in one go,” Kunapaneni said.

Synchronization is key when managing a team project, which was the primary lesson for Patel. He learned a project management process that entails steps ranging from planning to finally bringing together individual components to complete the project.

The post UAB Computer Science Students Earn Big Wins at Alabama’s Largest Hackathon first appeared in The Birmingham Times.