HS Hacks provides coding opportunity for both novice and expert programmers

HS Hacks is a high schoolers-only hackathon that will provide a unique coding environment for both beginner and expert programmers. The event is sponsored by several companies, including Yahoo!, Ebay Inc., PayPal, Microsoft and Pearson. Used with permission of Shrav Mehta.

HS Hacks is a high schoolers-only hackathon that will provide a unique coding environment for both beginner and expert programmers. The event is sponsored by several companies, including Yahoo!, Ebay Inc., PayPal, Microsoft and Pearson. Used with permission of Shrav Mehta.

Varsha Venkat

Students from Bay Area high schools work together to host students-only hackathon.

Most hackathons cater towards experienced programmers, a predominantly adult and college level demographic, providing an environment for them to create new products under a specified time limit. However, HS Hacks founder and president senior Shrav Mehta estimates that there are around 30 or 40 high school and middle school students who attend such events in the Bay Area, including some from MVHS who emerge winners.

HS Hacks is a high schoolers-only hackathon that will provide a unique coding environment for both beginner and expert programmers.

HS Hacks is a high schoolers-only hackathon that will provide a unique coding environment for both beginner and expert programmers. The event is sponsored by several companies, including Yahoo!, Ebay Inc., PayPal, Microsoft and Pearson. Used with permission of Shrav Mehta.

Mehta, who has attended between 20 to 30 hackathons, came up with the concept of a high schoolers-only hackathon in May 2013. The event, eventually named HS Hacks, was conceived because Mehta wanted to encourage more students to participate in hackathons. One of the first hackathons geared towards high schoolers, according to its organizers, HS Hacks — which will be held from Mar. 8 to 9 at the PayPal Headquarters in San Jose —  will provide an environment for both novice and expert programmers.

“We’re providing an experience for both non-experienced hackers and experienced hackers,” Mehta said. “The reason it’s important that we do this earlier in high school is that the best hackers, the best entrepreneurs, are the ones who started 10 years ago, and that’s really important.”

In October, Mehta started recruiting several other MVHS students, including senior Hana Hyder, to help him organize the event. He also got in touch with people he met at previous hackathons and asked them if they would be willing to sponsor the event. He said that once he had signed on the first couple of sponsors, more organizations became interested and soon HS Hacks had a solid foundation of sponsors, including PayPal, Yahoo! and Google Cloud. He managed to further publicize the event by getting in touch with Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to foster gender equality in programming fields, which helped HS Hacks reach out to more schools.

Mehta believes that more and more people are becoming interested in pursuing careers in engineering and hopes that HS Hacks will help these students take the first step in achieving their goals. Senior Andrew Gu, a student advocate for the event, finds that many students are interested in technology, but do not know how to get started in the field ––  a problem he believes this hackathon will solve.

“Everyone wants to work for Facebook, everyone wants to work for Google, and [they’re] like ‘What do I have to do to get there?’” Mehta said. “So basically this hackathon is a great start. We want to teach people to code early on because we’ll introduce more computer science majors into the market this way. More people will be interested.”

[quote_center]The reason it’s important that we do this earlier in high school is that the best hackers, the best entrepreneurs, are the ones who started 10 years ago, and that’s really important.[/quote_center]

According to the organizers, there will be workshops covering web and mobile development, and these workshops will also be available online as YouTube videos. There will also be application programming interface (API) and product workshops hosted by the sponsoring companies. Hyder, one of the HS Hacks vice-presidents, said that students can decide whether they want to go through a workshop before starting their project or go straight to the hackathon, depending on how comfortable they are with programming.

Hyder hopes that through such opportunities, HS Hacks will make hackathons more approachable for a wide variety of students.

“There are those people who are really into programming, really into coding, really into going to hackathons and everything. And then there are those people who you see want to go but they’re kind of scared about ‘What’s going to happen when I go?’” Hyder said. “That’s why this is so important to us. Because this is where the future is going, this is why we want to promote this kind of education at this age in our lives.”

In addition to its workshops and the 24-hour hackathon, HS Hacks will feature keynote speakers and a networking period during which students can interact with other high schoolers and industry professionals.

While the event provides a number of opportunities for beginning programmers, Gu said that experienced programmers will also benefit from the event.

“In the end when you program, the only way to improve — not like learning through reading books — is just to gain practical knowledge,” Gu said. “So either at some beginner’s hackathon here or at some advanced hackathon at some well-known university, in the end it’s all about just experience and making something new.”

HS Hacks will be held from March 8 to 9 at the PayPal headquarters in San Jose. Check their website here to find out more information about the event and register as a participant.