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SLO hacks into new potential at Central Coast Youth Hackathon

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In high school, I didn’t do space camp; I didn’t do school band; and I definitely didn’t do drama club. I thought I was too cool to do anything that wasn’t screaming into a microphone while playing Call of Duty with my Cheetos-dusted fingers.

As an adult who’s about to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, I wish I had taken advantage of the countless opportunities available to high school students, like the Central Coast Youth Hackathon.

NEW DOGS, NEW TRICKS :  Matt West, founder of CodeSLO, teaches students the art of HTML and Javascript. - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER DAVIDSON
  • PHOTO BY ALEXANDER DAVIDSON
  • NEW DOGS, NEW TRICKS : Matt West, founder of CodeSLO, teaches students the art of HTML and Javascript.

Teenagers from all over San Luis Obispo County met up at the Central Coast New Tech High School campus bright and early in Nipomo on Saturday, April 23, to create web pages, mobile apps, digital art, or games. Local web developers mentored the students along with members of Cuesta College’s computer science program and CodeSLO, a local program that teaches web design and coding programs.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for youth to get hands-on experience with technology before they exit high school,” said Peter Sullivan, organizer of the hackathon and teacher at Central Coast New Tech High School. “Our main purpose is to give everyone a learn-by-doing experience with technology.”

The day started with the ever-so-uncomfortable icebreakers. The first game involved getting with a partner that you’ve never met and answering a question: “If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?” Or, “If you had one million dollars, what would you do with it?”

I watched one student go through the kind of experience that might haunt him well into his 20s. It was when the music cuing students that it was time to stop moving around came to a screeching halt and the student noticed everyone around him was partnered up. That is, except one girl who was in the same position he was in. He bravely said, “I’m not sure that I’ve ever met you before … .” She walked away. It’s instances like these that would have made high school me crawl up into a little ball and go listen to Taking Back Sunday on repeat. But unlike me, this student didn’t go hide in a corner; he went and found another partner almost instantly.

HACKING TO THE TOP :  Students from SLO work within a nine-hour period to turn their ideas into a final product. - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER DAVIDSON
  • PHOTO BY ALEXANDER DAVIDSON
  • HACKING TO THE TOP : Students from SLO work within a nine-hour period to turn their ideas into a final product.

I’m sure that some of you reading this are like, “Yeah, what the heck is a hackathon?” It’s an event where individuals get together in teams to pitch and then create a product. Sometimes, a company will put on an event where they give teams software and challenge them to do new and interesting things with it. Other times, it’s an event where individuals pitch an idea for an app that they create from scratch, or it can be as abstract as the Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas 2.0 event that takes place in San Francisco on May 14 and boasts a banana zipper as its promotional picture. 

The youth hackathon isn’t about making a product as much as it’s about getting experience that isn’t a part of the everyday high school curriculum.

Some students broke off into groups that dealt with learning web development in JavaScript and HTML, and others learned basic app-creating skills. Either way, the learning curve was extremely steep and the information came at breakneck speed. I’ve learned basic coding in my journalism classes, and these students, who ranged from squeaky-voiced 13-year-olds to kids who can legally vote, were learning concepts that were more advanced than some of what I’ve learned at Cal Poly. 

- WHAT A HACK :  	The TransUnion Consumer Interactive Hackathon is coming up on May 6 and 7 at Cal Poly. Tickets are free, but going fast, find them on eventbrite.com. -
  • WHAT A HACK : The TransUnion Consumer Interactive Hackathon is coming up on May 6 and 7 at Cal Poly. Tickets are free, but going fast, find them on eventbrite.com.

Cal Poly’s hosting the TransUnion Interactive Consumer Hackathon on May 6 and 7. 

New Times Intern Alexander Davidson could be coding web pages, but is instead playing video games. Send Comments to New Times Arts Editor Ryah Cooley at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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