BY Cheryl Taylor
RIO GRANDE VALLEY – Sergio H. Nuñez, a 41-year-old senior computer science major, and Sergio A. Nuñez, a 20-year-old junior computer engineering major, are not only students at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; they also are father and son.
A few years ago, the Nuñez men had no idea they would end up in school together, both studying computers.
“After the economy went down, my business wasn’t doing well,” Sergio H. said. “I was in advertising, doing independent TV producing, coordinating videographers and writers. And well, when budgets are tight, this is usually the first place businesses start cutting. I decided it was time to change my career path to computer science and finish my degree.”
Sergio H. returned to South Texas College, where he had started a number of years earlier, and finished his associate’s degree, then he continued school at The University of Texas-Pan American.
“My plan was to find a job as a computer specialist right after I got my associate’s degree. But shortly after I finished, I found the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA),” he said. “With tuition assistance from VIDA, I had the peace of mind to continue with my bachelor’s degree. VIDA is a great agency that offers various training programs and career development. They are really changing lives with the help they provide to people in the Valley.”
Sergio A. already had started working on his degree at UTPA, and before long, father and son began having the same classes and professors.
Self-described tech geeks, they are one of several teams in the Hack and Make Creative Coalition, a student organization with members on both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses. Members attend Major League Hacking (MLH) hackathons once or twice a semester. MLH is regarded as the official student hackathon league.
Hackathons are weekend-long programming competitions where student hackers get together to show off their technical skills at building websites, applications and hardware hacks. These events generally receive financial support from sponsors – large companies like Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Exxon and Chevron – that rely on the latest technology.
MLH provides event marketing, promotional material, and hardware for hacking on or for various events during the hackathon. If enough participants register to fill up a bus, clubs located a sizeable distance from the events will generally receive complimentary bus transportation provided by hackathon sponsors.
Last year, UTRGV Hack and Make Creative Coalition attended hackathons in Dallas, Austin and Houston.
The two-man team of Sergio H. and Sergio A. won first place at the CodeRED hackathon, hosted by the University of Houston on Saturday, Nov. 21 in Houston.
“We were blown away,” Sergio H. said. “We knew we had something good, but didn’t expect to win. To hear your name called – it was so awesome.”
The Nuñez team designed an app called “Battlefit,” which combines video games and fitness.
Team Battlefit came home with first-place medals and the top prizes consisting of assorted electronic gear like monitors, keyboards, stands and tablets.
“The concept of Battlefit is to create a game out of fitness, with the player receiving benefits along the way,” Sergio A. said. “The Battlefit program brings together biometric tracking, multiplayer experience, fitness technologies and mobile devices to provide a richer experience to make people active.”
Both father and son said UTRGV is providing them with valuable tools they will be able to take with them at graduation.
“Dr. Dongchul Kim has been my mentor, the one I could always call on with questions for this project,” Sergio H. said. “He has been really patient with me while I’ve learned the language of computing and software. After we won, I made a beeline to his office the following Monday for us to take a photo together with my medal.”
UTRGV Hack and Make Creative Coalition has about 40 serious members who get together every two weeks in Brownsville and Edinburg. Co-founded by Alejandro Huerta, club president, and Carlos Alaniz, club vice president, in the spring semester of last year, the club provides students with resources like workshops and information about local career opportunities, and helps facilitate trips to hackathons.
Team Battlefit looks forward to the upcoming Texas hackathons: MavHack, April 2-3 at The University of Texas at Arlington, followed by HackDFW, April 16-17, organized by several universities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“My immediate goal after graduation is to work for Google, on a development team,” Sergio A. said. “I’ve always admired Google’s ability as a company to always be moving forward and making great advances to bring technologies to everyday working people. I want to be a part of this, helping improve and enhance everyday life.”
Both father and son are serious about their Battlefit idea, and they are looking into possible commercial development. They already have discussed their concept with the UTRGV Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development.
Down the road, they see themselves forming a software development corporation, doing what seems natural – working together.