Starting at 11:00 am on a Saturday morning in Westlake Village, around 50 students aspiring to code a project or learn how to code, streamed into the doors of Hub101, where CodeDay LA was taking place. They came in, each with their own fresh ideas, and with a burning passion to code that sparked within them the madness to take the initiative to sign up for a 24-hour hackathon.
CodeDay LA is one of many events known as hackathons. Hackathons are a way for members of the programming community to meet each other and form groups. The groups are given a time frame, the shortest usually 12 hours and the longest a couple days and are expected to create a project and present it. Some hackathons may have certain aspects of community or problems such as environmental issues, that they wish groups to address and cater their project to, and after presentations, judges will award the best teams on a certain criteria. Hackathons, more than simply winning awards, give participants an opportunity and some time to learn valuable skills whch they did not have prior to the event.
After listening to a brief introduction, attendees vaulted straight into pitching concepts. They brainstormed ideas like a virtual business card, a time-based card game, an anonymous tutoring website, or a map of the US displaying lead content in drinking water. Students formed teams and set off straight to work. However, many were also lost, having no prior programming experience, and no idea where to start building their pitch. This is where the workshop aspect of hackathons come into play. At CodeDay LA, four workshops were held in total, ranging from basic game development with Construct 3 to the fundamentals of machine learning, giving attendees a jumping off point for their projects.
As a volunteer, throughout the 24-hour period I helped set up snacks and meals for the attendees, as well as making my way around to see if any groups needed help coding their project. As I did this, I had a chance to interview some groups to see what they gained from this experience. One attendee remarked that last during the last CodeDay, she made a basic game using Construct 3, the platform introduced in the workshops. However, this CodeDay, she decided to take on the challenge of recreating the game in Unity, a more professional game development software. In the end, she managed to create a Doodle-Jump style program and walked away having created several scripts in C#, a computer language she knew absolutely nothing about before the event, fulfilling the very spirit of a hackathon.
In the end, every group finished the 24-hour coding marathon absolutely exhausted, but proud of what they created, and having enjoyed interacting with other programmers for a 24-hour period. I myself learned a lot from the other volunteers and look forward to organizing more hackathons; CodeDay LA 2020 in February, here we come!
Paul Kang, Grade 10
La Canada High School