Frequently Asked Questions


HCS is a student organization at Harvard devoted to promoting community around computers, technology, good technology policy, and the study of computer science. We've been around since at least 1983, which gives us the fine distinction of being older than our average member. HCS members come from all fields, from History to Biology to Computer Science, and from many different parts of Harvard, from Harvard College to many different graduate schools, prominently the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

HCS was founded to publish the Harvard Computer Review and Computing@Harvard, two magazines which ultimately couldn't be as current as the internet. We've since moved on to other projects. Our longest-running and most widely recognized project provides a suite of computer services to student groups. Notably, our mailing list service has thousands of active lists and gets around ten thousand unique messages on a good day. We've been involved with helping students get connected to the campus network.

We now offer our members and the general public a wide variety of experiences and resources that ranges from community nights with food-filled fun to professional help with tech interviews and resume building. You can learn more about HCS by visiting our about page. Interested in joining? See the "How can I join HCS?" link below. You can also subscribe to any number of our mailing lists below!

HCS-Announce: This is our main mailing list through which we send general HCS announcements about member events, bootcamps, tech talks, and other cool stuff
HCS-Discuss: This is meant for general CS information at Harvard - everything from CS concentration requirements to questions about the evolving field of CS
HCS-Jobs: This is meant for deadlines and applications for CS internships and other job opportunities

Interested in joining Harvard’s largest community of CS enthusiasts? Comping HCS is a great way to hone your skills, make new friends, receive funding for personal projects, and connect with our industry sponsors! HCS runs an educational bootcamp series (offered in both the fall and the spring), covering various topics! Past bootcamps include data mining, APIs, web scraping, and web and mobile development. We may also have bootcamps covering topics such as setting up your own personal website and working with hardware such as Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, 3D printers, etc. Complete a certain number of bootcamps from the HCS Bootcamp series to become a seasoned member of the Harvard Computer Society! Join HCS-Announce to get updated information about our bootcamp series and how many bootcamps you must attend in order to join!

Besides our many and various projects, HCS also runs a series of events throughout the year. These include hosting prominent speakers (in the past we've had Steve Ballmer, Steve Wozniak, Stephen Wolfram, Paul Graham, and Cory Doctorow, for example), discussions with faculty and researchers in computer science, panels with leaders in industry (including executives from S&P 500 companies), tech talks by engineers from interesting companies like Google and Facebook, tours of the Harvard NOC and main datacenter, seminars on how computers or the internet work, workshops on how to make the most of technology, and whatever else we can come up with.

Beyond events, HCS is involved in advocacy for good technology policy at Harvard. We maintain close relationships with many of the people who set policies that affect students and we've helped to make sure that an informed student voice is always part of major decisions. Our current focus involves advocating for more open and transparent policies in several areas. We've also helped courses expand their technical capabilities, through collaboration with CS 50 and CS 51.

HCS also hosts the annual Datamatch service, which uses advanced computer technology to pair Harvard students just in time for Valentine's Day.

You can find out more at our about page.

Harvard Computer Society (HCS) offers two free web services available to Harvard affiliates: mailing lists and web accounts.

Mailing lists provide an efficient way to facilitate announcements to or discussion among student groups, houses, study groups, blockmates, or groups of friends. It is easy to add any number of Harvard and non-Harvard addresses to a mailing list, and administering them is simple and requires little technical expertise. They have the form, and can be created here.

HCS accounts are a simple way for any Harvard student group, official or unofficial, to host webpages with 2GB of space, mysql database, and a mailing address. The websites are hosted at, and can be requested here.

You can find out more about our services by contacting us.

At HCS projects nights, we provide our members with the resources, mentorship, and training to pursue their interest in computer science. Each event consists of a hands-on workshop working with cool technologies, office hours with upperclassmen to ask about CS at Harvard and beyond, a space to hack with friends on a favorite project, and, of course, the best dinners Harvard Square has to offer. Towards the end of the semester, member teams will be given funding and mentors to work on a final project which they will present at the end of the year.

HCS projects are as diverse as our members: working with the university to better technology policy, managing and securing a production web server, talking about computer science problems, building and destroying computers, etc. A more complete list can be found on our about page.

We're usually very willing to listen to your idea, particularly if it's really crazy and will change the lives of people at Harvard and beyond. If you've got an interesting idea for a project, you should come up with a pitch and contact the HCS board. We regularly help out or take on interesting projects and give them computing resources, people resources, connections to the Harvard administration, etc. We're particularly good at absorbing projects and turning them into things that live perpetually, rather than things that die when their founder/author graduates. If you want help or resources but still want to lead your project, you should consider joining HCS and making your project an official HCS project. Then you can try to recruit a fiefdom. Er, following.

If, on the other hand, you're looking for developers for your club/website/startup, we're probably not interested and you should consider instead writing up a pitch and sending it to the hcs-jobs mailing list. If you really think we might be interested, you should still contact us. We're very friendly and usually willing to help send you in the right direction even if it doesn't involve us directly.

Absolutely! Most of us didn't know very much when we joined either. In fact, some of our most successful members had never programmed before joining HCS. We're happy to teach you everything we know, just as we learned it from the HCS members before us. So don't be afraid to join without experience and ask a lot of questions. All we ask is that you're interested and excited by technology, just like we are. Similarly, you don't have to be a CS concentrator to join HCS. In fact, historically, CS concentrators have been a minority of HCS members, who have studied everything from History to Biology to Mathematics or Physics.

You should probably contact the board and someone can help you. We gladly accept donations (for a long time, we ran entirely on donated hardware) to support our various projects. If you're donating something of value, like money or computer hardware, we can arrange for the donation to be tax-deductible, but we need to know in advance so that we can channel it through the right part of the university.

Mailing List

If you would like to prevent your mailing list from being publicly listed, you can go to
Privacy options > Subscription rules > Advertise this list when people ask what lists are on this machine?
and set it to "No".

If you would like to control who can subscribe to the mailing list, you can go to
Privacy options > Subscription rules > What steps are required for subscription?
and set it to "Require approval" or "Confirm and approve".

If you would like to make your mailing list archives private, you can go to
Archiving Options > Is archive file source for public or private archival?
and set it to "private".

Account Services

Anyone in the Harvard community can apply for any of the services offered by HCS. In order to get a mailing list, you only need a valid (or e-mail address. You can make a list instantly at our list page. If you would like a full account with web a website and a real e-mail address, you should fill out the form here. Again, anyone in the Harvard community can apply for an account as long as it has a specific purpose and benefits a group of people.

If you would like a personal account for any reason, you can get one by joining HCS as a prospective member. We give accounts to prospective members after they've attended and participated in two regularly scheduled HCS meetings.

Yes. Rails is a bit complex, but we're working on making it easy. In general, you should ask us if you need something - we're very friendly. And if you're really interested in using Rails or another application server, you might be interested in helping us figure out the best way to support them.

Yes! If you don't have an account, you can request one now at Then see for information on setting this up. Once everything is configured, your site will magically appear at your domain name. Amazing!

Log in to your group account, and type access. You'll want to use option B for people with fas accounts and option E for everyone else.

You probably don't have one! Passwords set with sftppasswd are reset each morning at 4am. We regulate access to our accounts with access lists instead. To get into your account you need to be on this access list, in which case you won't be asked for a password. Other people on the access list can add you-- see "How do I add/remove somebody from the group's access list?" below.

First, HCS runs a useful tool called phpMyAdmin at You can view and modify many of your database settings here. You can also access your MySQL database from the command line by typing

mysql -h -u group-name_here -p

at the command prompt. Enter your MySQL password when prompted.

Some settings you would use in connecting to the database in a php script:

DB = group_name
DBUSER = group_name (same)
DBPASS = your_mysql_password

A complete tutorial is available on how to get into your HCS account for the first time.

Unix (including Macs): type
into a terminal prompt ("Terminal" on Macs) and enter your FAS password.
Say yes to any questions about authentication.

Windows: download SecureCRT from here and connect to with your FAS username and password.

Then: From the fas% prompt, type
(note the hcs (that's us!) in place of the fas above)
If you are on the access list for the group, you should get a prompt at your group account (something like hera:~>), and if you aren't you will be asked for a password, which you won't know (we only provide access through FAS or with SSH keys).

We authenticate non-fas users via RSA/DSA keys. You can generate a public/private key pair as follows:

Unix (including Macs): type
ssh-keygen -t dsa
into a terminal prompt ("Terminal" on Macs), and it will run you through the process (selecting the default settings/values is fine). The OpenSSH keyfile, also known as the public key, is the long string of random characters that gets printed to the screen at the end (also found by default at ~/.ssh/

Windows: SecureCRT can do it, under Tools>Create Public Key...

Not sure how to make this work? We now have an in-depth tutorial on setting up OpenSSH keys with your HCS account.


1. First set an sftp password with the command "sftppasswd" from the command line.

2. Then open Dreamweaver, click manage sites, select your site and hit edit, and go the the advanced tab.

3. On the side menu there, click "Remote info", then choose an access of "FTP" and then fill out FTP host is "", host directory is "~group_name_here/web/folder_name" and login and password are "group_name" and the sftppassword that you set earlier. Check the "use secure ftp" box.

4. Then, you can sync your website.

Since the spring of 2005, HCS home directory data has been stored on a network appliance filer, courtesy of a very generous alum. A network appliance filer, for those of you who don't keep track of such things, is a fancy computer with some really big hard disks and a bunch of nify features, designed to make things like storing home directories safer and more convenient. Among the great bells and whistles include snapshot directories: every hour, every night, and every week, the filer takes a "picture" of your home directory and stores it somewhere for you to get at in the case of an emergency. To get at your snapshots, type:

ls .zfs/snapshot

from your home directory. You'll see something like this:

jharvard-hcs@hera:~$ ls .zfs/snapshot
hourly.0 nightly.0 weekly.0 weekly.2
hourly.1 nightly.1 weekly.1

The numbers start at 0 for most recent and count up as the snapshots get older. To get the most recent copy of a file called "foo.txt," sit in your home directory and type:

cp .zfs/snapshot/hourly.0/foo.txt

If you need help with this or with anything else, feel free to contact with the details of what you're trying to do.

Faulty permissions can cause lots of trouble!

If permissions are set too low, you will get 403 Forbidden errors when loading pages; if they're set too high, an attacker may be able to rewrite anything on your site at will. To fix permissions on your account, SSH into HCS and enter these commands

find ~/web/ -type d -exec chmod 755 {} \; - Fixes permissions for directories
find ~/web/ -type f -exec chmod 644 {} \; - Fixes permissions for files

This should prevent others from writing to your files, although insecure PHP code can still be used to hose your website with spam. But for now, if you're new to PHP and Ruby on Rails, try to only use well-maintained and well-known packages like Wordpress or Drupal, follow their instructions carefully, and keep your code up-to-date.

We are currently working on what hours work best for our members to provide personal support. We are working as quickly as possible to make this support available!

In the meantime, if you're doing something really complicated and high-impact and you don't know where to start, you might consider pitching it to the HCS board as a potential HCS project. If that's the case, you should contact us.