Scitech  Technophobes, fear no more

HackMcGill aims to introduce students to new computer skills

Those who are intrigued by the inner workings of their favourite phone applications will be pleased by this semester’s instalment of Hack101, a tutorial series composed of five lessons that aim to introduce students to the programming concepts. Organized by the student group HackMcGill, the tutorials will explore the basics behind building van Android app for your phone.

In the first tutorial, held on January 14, the attendees were shown how to create a tip calculator, which displays the desired tip based on the bill and waiter performance typed in by the user. The goal was to teach how to set up and use Android Studio, Android’s integrated development environment (IDE). The Android Studio simulator allows the developer to visualize the final result on a computer or laptop, without needing to buy an Android device.

Upcoming lessons will cover subjects ranging from simple activities to web development. Learning these skills can ultimately help developers to create more complex apps, and even potentially offer them on markets like Google Play.

Amiel Kollek, a U2 Mathematics and Computer Science student and a member of HackMcGill, leads the tutorials, guiding the developers-to-be through the code line by line, and answering questions when issues are encountered. Completing his own code along with the audience, Kollek presented the process of creating a basic app.

“People are often unduly intimidated by applications and programming, even though it’s actually quite simple,” says Kollek. “Our goal is to get those intimidated interested in these technologies.”

Kollek mentioned that some background knowledge in the matter could be helpful. “A basic knowledge of Java programming is expected. COMP 202 [Foundations of Programming 1] might do you good.” Nonetheless, many unfamiliar coding statements are clarified at the tutorials. There are also several online resources available for free, to get you started at your own pace.

Born of a desire to attract a new crowd, Hack101 covers one topic per semester, with all lessons and codes uploaded on Github, allowing programmers to catch up on the material from the comfort of their homes. The contents from the previous instalment of Hack101 from the last semester are still available online, including lessons on the basics of HTML, deployment, and more.

While some may think trying to involve beginners in this endeavour is an idealistic goal, the tutorial proceeded in a friendly manner, and struggling coders were invited to come up with and inquire about solutions to their glitches at the end. This goes on to show that the successful development of a program comes down to one thing: motivation.

The first lesson drew a large crowd, filling every corner of the Trottier 3120 computer lab. “Last semester, we did an introduction to web development. If the tutorials remain very popular, we’ll keep them going,” adds Kollek.

The application development sector has been receiving a lot of attention in the past few years. It was announced last week that all three major app stores – the Apple iOS store, Google Play, and the Amazon store – have grown by more than 50 per cent in 2014. Google Play boasts the most impressive numbers, with a total of 388,000 developers and the highest number of new apps overall throughout the year. It also offers the largest library, with a total of 1.43 million apps. This ever-growing community of app developers can be inspiring to many people eager to learn development-related skills, in the hopes of one day joining the crowd. However, publishing on Google Play requires a one-time registration fee of only $25, while becoming an individual iOS developer requires one to pay $99 per year.

HackMcGill offers other opportunities to learn and perfect computer skills for students, namely hackathon’s and HackNights. As the name suggests, Hackathons are timed events where coders race to code a certain program, while HackNights are occasions for McGill hackers to meet and work on both personal projects and school assignments.

Although developing an app definitely relies on a certain amount of work and dedication, Hack101 represents an interesting learning opportunity for both the logical and creative minds. Whether you want finally to dive into the programming world or just to add another string to your bow, it is an event worth trying.

For more information on upcoming Hack101 tutorials and HackMcGill events, interested students should consult the HackMcGill Facebook group and