Frequently Asked Questions - About HCS

HCS is a student organization at Harvard devoted to promoting interest in 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 everything from helping students get connected to the campus network back when it was strange and new to advocating for more secure university ID cards just last year.

You can learn more about HCS by visiting our about page and learn about joining by visiting our members page. You can also learn about the services we offer by visiting our Account Services page.

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.

The best way to get a sense of our projects is to stop by a meeting. We meet weekly in the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH 307) on Tuesdays starting at 8 and running late into the evening.

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, most prominently through a collaboration with the new CS 50 in the fall of 2007.

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.

HCS has regularly scheduled weekly meetings, called "office hours." Mostly, this is a chance for us to get together and discuss the status of various projects, to work through any problems that we're having, to have one-on-one contact with the people who use our services, and a really good excuse to eat pizza. Sometimes, we have special guests such as alumni or faculty members or we do special things like event planning. There's also plenty of good company and good discussion. And did we mention the pizza?

We have a very cool office in SOCH 307. You should come by and check it out. We have several workstations, a rack full of servers, and a small but growing library of technical books. If you become an HCS member, we'll also give you access to this office so that you can come and work there if you so desire.

Office hours are scheduled regularly and are approximately weekly. They're currently Wednesdays from 7-9pm or later, but you should check our front page for the most up-to-date information.

To become a prospective member of HCS, all you need to do is express some interest and come to and participate in at least two regularly scheduled meetings, also known as "office hours." Often, we count certain other events for the purpose of obtaining an account, so you should feel free to ask, particularly if you can't make office hours for some reason.

To become a full-fledged member, you'll need to get involved with one of HCS's many projects. If you come to one of our events and talk to us, we can help you find something that you're interested in and help you get started. Once you have done some work on a project that has been approved by the Membership Coordinator, you'll be eligible for membership elections late in the semester. Members get special privileges, like the ability to run for and vote for the board, the ability to vote on actions of the board, etc. Also, unlike the account FAS gives you, HCS member accounts don't expire.

You must be an active Harvard student to become a member. However, if you aren't an active student, the board can still designate you an honorary member. You should contact us if you're interested.

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.

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 fifedom. 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.

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.