HeyCuba Hackathon aids to expand Internet access on island

Florida Vocational Institute’s Miami campus and non-profit Apretaste are hosting more than 100 coders for the HeyCuba Hackathon aiming to expand Cuba’s Internet access. The inaugural HeyCuba Hackathon, which runs from March Friday through Sunday at the FVI campus at Mall of the Americas, comes two days after the White House names Miami a TechHire city.

Instructors from FVI, which offers short and long-term coding training, will be on hand at the HeyCuba event to help novices, as well as those with the coding chops to pry open Cuba’s Internet. “The HeyCuba Hackathon represents the potential that coding holds for students around the globe,” said Arnie Girnun, president of FVI. Girnun is also co-chair of the TechHire.Miami initiative, which pushed to get Miami named a TechHire city, an initiative aimed at training and placing 2,415 Miami area residents in tech jobs by the end of 2020.

Currently, more than 35,000 Cubans have access to email, but can’t browse the Internet freely. Cuban immigrant Salvi Pascual founded Miami-based Apretaste as a workaround that uses email as the go-between for queries. To that end, the user on the island sends a question by email with their topic of interest like “Wikipedia,” followed by specific keywords, and gets back an automatic response that in a few steps provides the specific information.

“Currently, the HeyCuba platform can respond to questions in 30 different categories that include Google Maps and even a dating site. The goal is to expand those categories by applying the brainpower of the Hackathon coders,” said Pascual.

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