Learning to Code, Making a Difference, and Eating Donuts at Midnight
By Nico Garza
School is out. To most students, it’s a time to relax until the school year starts up again. Then there are students who still want to use their minds and keep learning, after all this is really what we are supposed to do at such a young age, the more we learn now the more beneficial it is to us. But during the summer it is hard to find a place to really use your brain. That’s why the SoHacks Hackathon on June 13th & 14th was created, to gather over 500 high school students for 2 days to use their brain to hack (program) something that could potentially change the world.
I found myself at the Rackspace HQ on Friday the 13th at 1pm, I was well rested and ready to learn (I myself do not have much experience with programming so my mission was to learn how to program instead of working on a project). As I was getting my “SoHacks 2014” T-Shirt and Name Badge, I noticed immediately how friendly the environment was. I looked around “The Factory” (the area of Rackspace where most of the hacking would take place) where over 500 of my peers were looking for a power outlet to plug their laptop, and it was a beautiful sight.
But before any hacking could begin, we were all gathered into the main stage room for opening ceremonies. District 1Councilman Diego Bernal gave a few words about how important it is for us to be learning such important skills at such a young age. Computers are the future of this world – in fact computers are really what control the present as well – and this can be easily compared to my peers and I, as it’s often said that we are the future leaders of this world, but I disagree – I believe we are the leaders of today.
Day 1, 3pm
The ceremonies are over, and it’s time for the hacking to begin. Everybody got into their groups to start planning their project, but at this time there was also some workshops going on. I attended workshops on learning how to make mobile apps and how to use different products. Rasberry pi is essentially a mini computer for programmers, this was what I was most interested in the most. I’ve had my eye on one of these for the longest time and that day I finally get to work on it. We all got gathered into a room of about 30 each table had two devices to share, when I found my spot I was anxious to begin so I quickly turned it on. I gazed at the display as the teacher began to speak. He introduced us to the raspberry pi and gave us a quick rundown on what we will be doing, which included, programming a snake game in the coding language “python”, ironic. That’s what most of this class was about, we learned how to change the speed of the game, the color of it, the difficulty and many other little things with some simple code. I felt very accomplished!
Day 1, Later
Afterthe class ended, I saw everybody in their groups already planning and executing, and I wanted to see what that was like. I got into a group of three girls just so I could see what it takes to hack. At first it was difficult – it takes lots of planning to figure out what you want to create. But the group soon came to a decision of creating a website that could help plan a trip by choosing places to stop on the way to a destination. Not too shabby I thought, but I was there to learn on my own so eventually I wished the group the best of luck and relocated to the main stage room where many people were already set up.
I relocated with a friend to the main stage area and opened the resources page provided to us by the SoHacks website so we could learn how to hack. I got settled in the back and got my headphones out, plugged it into my phone and started up Spotify ready to learn, but not before eating some awesome pizza (I’ve never seen so much pizza!). The first language I wanted to learn was HTML and CSS, which work together to make a website. I went into Codeacademy.com to do this, it was a friendly and easy to use website to learn programming and I got lost in it for about three hours just learning different ways I can put a website together.
Day 1, Three Hours Later
I finally had a new website filled with information about traveling, but it looked awful, because the CSS section hadn’t been implemented yet. I spent the next couple of hours following the tutorial to finish that part, which was satisfying because the look of the site was beginning to come alive. Five or Six hours had passed and I was proud to see a new traveling website before my eyes, but I had to have a break from the computer or I would go mad. So I got up with my friend, grabbed some donuts (our midnight snack) and went to talk to some people around us.
The probability of finding an interesting person in this room was high. Everybody had their own story, their own interests, everybody was different. These kids were smart, they were fun, we were all nerdy, but we were proud of that. I ran into a group who was making an amazing app to tell you that your phone was too far away from you when wearing a smart watch.
Day 2, 5am
I was motivated just thinking who else is in that building my age who was as impressive as these dudes, so I decided to get back to learning another language: java script. Again I plugged in my music and went to work this time only for an hour or two because, this is a tough language to learn when it is five in the morning. So then there I was at the computer at five in the morning while people were asleep on the floor in their sleeping bags. Unfortunately I wasn’t tired enough to sleep so I stayed up, and for two hours worked on catching up on TV. I just didn’t have it in me to do more programming, I had learned tons at this hour.
At 7AM it was clean up time. The head of ceremonies played the cleanup song from Barney all I could do was laugh. I still was not tired – the power of motivation! I went to the Factory to get breakfast tacos, and then walked around for a bit. Throughout the weekend I was amazed by the Rackspace environment and felt very welcomed. I decided then to talk to one of the actual Rackspace employees – or “rackers” – so I found myself approaching the dude in the cape, Chris Caillouet. He’s the guy who was walking around with a self-triggered GoPro around his chest, the guy playing with the remote controlled ball, and also a teacher of linux at the Rackspace open cloud academy. He was a friendly guy and was easy to talk to.
The first thing I asked him about was internships, because I am interested in my future and Rackspace could be an option, he was the right guy to talk to. I learned that you only have to be 18 to work at Rackspace, this excited me because I’m only two years away from that age. That gave me even more motivation to learn. I then asked him what the most important things to know are. He answered me saying the most important thing to learn is an open collaboration website for programming called “github” he told me how it works and said there is a tutorial site to learn it. I thanked him for his time and went my way back to the computer with my newly found motivation to learn github. It is a simple enough program that I feel would be very useful to me in the future.
Day 2, Noon
It had finally hit me, the sleepiness that is an all-nighter. I could no longer do it, I had to go home so I asked for my dad to come and pick me up, and that was it – my hackathon was over. I didn’t get to see who won but, that doesn’t really matter to me, what matters is that there is a whole generation of kids my age who are interested in the future and motivated to make a change in the world. We are the people that make cities like San Antonio grow bigger every year, people want to come live in a place where they know the technology is advancing and that there is a future for them and their families as well, so without a generation like us where would our city be? That’s what I took from hackathon, I not only learned how to program, but I learned that just cause I am young and unexperienced does not mean I cannot make a difference.