On Saturday, April 28, two Nueva middle school students hosted the first-ever Nueva Hackathon, a design event where people interested in computer programming and software development collaborate intensively to create usable software over a short period of time. This all-inclusive event was the brainchild of middle-schoolers Yash N. and Taher V., who organized the Hackathon with Twitter co-creator Dom Sagolla, who was one of the presenters amongst the 60 participants and attendees.
This first-ever Hackathon was another great example of the empowerment Nueva students are given to pursue their passions and make their dreams possible. Yash first became interested in coding after attending an ID tech camp hosted at Stanford, and was a second grader when he created his first simple drag-and-drop software program. Yash’s passion for tech skyrocketed when he joined the IOS Developer Camp, a hackathon at PayPal’s headquarters that attracted over 500 developers. It was during IOS Dev Camp that Yash learned Swift, one of the newer programming languages, and that inspired him to bring a hackathon to Nueva.
Taher, a seventh-grade technology representative on the Student Council, joined Yash’s dream of hosting a hackathon, “I knew the general gist about hackathons, but there were a lot of unknowns for me,” he said. Despite this, Taher raised his hand and said “yes," believing that he would learn what he needed to know along the way. Saturday’s event was Taher’s first hackathon, and he was already jumping in to support groups where help was needed.
Some of the challenges the pair faced in producing the event included fundraising and finding chaperones. Yash and Taher created a GoFundMe page and raised $1,600 in just a few days. The money went towards snacks and prizes for hackathon winners, including several customized Nueva blue duffel bags.
“We found our donors through word of mouth,” said Yash. “I got PayPal as a donor because I knew the organizer from the IOS development camp.” This organizer was Dom Sagolla, one of the founding creators of Twitter, and the build engineer for President Obama’s iPhone app in the 2008 campaign. The Obama ‘08 app became one of the most widely distributed apps in history, and is the type of project developed during a hackathon.
Dom was not only a sponsor for Yash and Taher’s hackathon, but also a guest speaker. He introduced himself with humility: “Hi, I’m Dom and I’m just a guy.” Dom breezed through a brief summation of his achievements before passing the mic around the audience, asking for participants’ names, ages, and project of interest. Dom asked every participant, “What do you need? How can I help?” And students’ responses dazzled Dom in typical Nueva fashion, “I’m Laney and I’m making a game using Python.” When asked if he needed help, Laney shrugged, “Nahh, I’m good.”
Another challenge Yash and Taher faced in producing the event was figuring out how to describe a hackathon to students unfamiliar with the term. Saturday morning, Dom broke the code. “A hackathon is a showcase. What can you get done in X amount of time? A hackathon is a community — a temporary community — where we help each other build stuff.”
Yash and Taher outlined the official hackathon rules, which included keeping teams to a maximum of five people to encourage inclusivity, and creating only new code, not copy-and-paste code from the web. “We want to respect the code others have created,” Taher said. “This is an opportunity to learn something new.”
Through the experience, both boys felt a strong sense of pride and accomplishment, particularly Taher, who said, “We took a sense of ownership; I go to Nueva. This is my hackathon.” Yash felt the same, “We had to learn how to explain what we do. In explaining, it would quickly come out that we’re passionate about this. You don’t see student-driven hackathons often.”
Many of the existing student-run hackathons are organized by university students. The current competing Bay Area student-driven hackathon is run by a San Francisco State University club called INCUBED. In March 2017, INCUBED attracted an audience of 350 attendees from all over the North American continent for their first 24-hour hackathon. It has since been absorbed under the umbrella of SF Hacks, and the organizers persevered to host a second all-nighter hackathon this past March in the SFSU student center.
And while hackathons across the country do attract middle school–aged attendees, rarely do you see middle schoolers producing a hackathon event from the ground up.
Dom, Taher, and Yash emphasized the inclusivity of the tech community. Dom said, “What most attracts me to Dev Camp is the chance to shift tech culture.” The youngest participant was Yash’s sister, 8-year-old Anusha, who partnered with Nueva fifth graders Eleanor A. and Liliana D. to create SeedClicker, a mouse game where seeds are bought and then clicked until they grow.
The night concluded with group project presentations and the crowning of the hackathon winners. First place was awarded to fifth grader FanFan J., who created a tool that "translates AP language to plain English." The app was called "CodeTalker." Fanfan started the project at home using a flowchart and then worked furiously to finish programming it during the hackathon.
First-, second-, and third-place winners won trophies, chocolates and credit towards the Nueva store, but every hackathon participant received a duffel bag screenprinted with "First Ever Hackathon @ Nueva." According to Yash and Taher, “Everyone deserves a prize. Being here and trying something new is an accomplishment in itself.”
By Julia Barzizza, Digital Content Specialist
May 9, 2018