You’ve heard of hackers – people who use computers to gain unauthorized access to data. Hackers have been in the news a lot, most recently for launching a massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures and threatening to blow up movie theaters if the film studio released a comedy showing the assassination of North Korea’s ruler.
Don’t expect to find these sinister computer criminals at a hackathon. The term hackathon merges the words “hack” and “marathon,” and it refers to fun computer programming competitions that sometimes stretch on for days. Major companies have gotten their starts at hackathons, including GroupMe, a mobile group messaging app now owned by Microsoft, and PhoneGap, a system used to build apps on mobile devices that was acquired by Adobe. Hackathons are especially popular on college campuses.
Earlier this month, Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts hosted its first hackathon, and 50 students from the high school and middle schools were invited to participate. Computer science is a required course for all seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders at Success Academy, and the hackathon celebrated the progress that these students have made. At the Saturday event, scholars were given one of three challenges: develop a video game, create an application for a mobile device or build an interactive webpage. Students were given minimal help; they had to work out the solutions on their own.
We interviewed the scholars at the hackathon, and their reflections on the day inspired us and made us smile. Here’s what four of them said:
Arionne, fifth-grader at Harlem East
I have a dog named Apollo, and I would like to build a robot for him – something that he can play with because I feel he’s lonely at home. I like computer programming and the chance to get to explore because I’m really curious and I like to solve different problems. If computer science was just for boys, I wouldn’t be able to do what I like to do. And that would make me really upset.
Camila, seventh-grader at Harlem East
I developed a game that has a maze and the main character is a cat that gets chased by three dogs. You have to try to get through the maze without running out of lives. Some parts of making this game were really hard. I had to work through all the possibilities until I found a solution that works. That’s what I like about computer science: You can manipulate everything, and when you get the result you want, it makes all the hard work and frustration worth it.
Lamine, seventh-grader at Harlem West
I took an online course so I could be ready for the hackathon. I want to learn everything about coding; if you want to build a website, you need so many web technologies to appeal to people online. I want to build a real web page for Success Academy that has the opinions of all the scholars at the network. Also, I want to create my own video game. It’s going to be about sports. I love sports.
Jeremy, ninth-grader at HSLA
I came to the hackathon because I believe it’s a liberating experience and I’ve always wanted to make my own app. In the future, I will be particularly enthralled to do computer animation. MIT is my number one college choice, and one of my goals is to use my computer skills to help the world.