University Students Create Vastly Cheaper Government Census Program

A pair of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) freshman have successfully engineered a
substitute to the Australian government’s census website
after only 2.25 days of solid work. Austin Wilshire and Bernd Hartzer, ages 18 and 24 respectively, coded the site during a campus hacking event, known as a hack-a-thon.

The most amazing aspect of Wilshire and Hartzer’s project is that it required just under $500 Australian to set up. In order to put things into comparison, the official site of the Australian government required an investment of $10 million from taxpayers. While the QUT project, nicknamed “Make Census Great Again” (MCGA) succeeded, the official site remained crashed for over a day after an excessive number of users simultaneously signed in to fill in their information, overloading the website’s servers.

“MCGA’s” success could be attributed to a framework that doesn’t directly rely on servers. Instead of paying for a server, the two students engineered the site to utilize Amazon’s own servers in a relatively new method of computing that employs minutely-sized Lambda functions to execute code. This approach means that all of the operation and maintenance is co-opted by Amazon’s professional technicians. Wilshire likens this approach to using a taxi to reach a destination; users only pay for the distance traveled while other individuals handle the cost of upkeep on the vehicle.

The Australian government’s benchmark for usage of their website was placed at 1 million loads per hour, though they had looked into a more costly version capable of sustaining four times as many loads. Conversely, the QUT hack-a-thon site paid no costs to stress test and under $500 to make. Hartzer remarked that their website had a simple interface because it did not require the complexities or limitations that the Census site’s engineers would have plenty of.

Hartzer and Wilshire took the first place prize in the QUT contest. This was also their first entry into anything resembling a hack-a-thon. Such contests are hosted by the QUT student organization “my Code Network,” which then uploads contest-winning entries to its website for viewers to use and learn from.