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About 130 Students Take on Challenge of Wilcox High School’s 24 Hour “Wilhacks”

When many people hear the term “hack” or “hackathon,” the idea of breaking into a protected computer system might come to mind.  But “hacking” also means writing one’s own code and creating something new and innovative. From Oct. 13 to Oct. 14, about 130 students from local schools assembled into about 30 teams at Wilcox High School for “Wilhacks”—the school’s first student-run hackathon hosted by Wilcox High School’s Programming Club. Students were expected to stay on campus for 24 hours and pull an all-nighter—although quiet rooms were available for both boys and girls who needed rest. Sponsors provided meals. Participation in the event was free of charge.

“The idea is that in 24 hours, [the groups] can try to come up with an idea and at least get it implemented or get a good start on it and show us what you would do or make,” said Karen Hardy, math and computer science teacher and advisor for the Programming Club at Wilcox.  “This focuses on fast problem solving.  The students can make games. They can make apps. They can make an interactive website. They can do just about anything. I tell them that the best programs are the ones that solve a problem.”

Participation in the event was open to all high school students with an interest in coding. Beginning coders were invited to join a class Hardy led called “So You’re a Beginner” where Hardy introduced learners to interactive websites that offered coding exercises.

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“Sometimes parents would ask me what programming language I’m teaching. I tell them, that’s the wrong question,” Hardy said. “I’ll tell them they should be asking me if I’m teaching loops, conditionals, nesting and all the logic of programming. The programming languages I learned in college—Fortran, Basic and Pascal—we don’t even use anymore. The point is to understand the structure and the logic of how to make a computer program do what you want it to do.”

 In the past, Hardy and the school’s Programming Club visited Gunn High School in Palo Alto to participate in hackathons. After her students suggested that they could pull off a similar event at Wilcox, Hardy came on board to support them. According to Hardy, her students raised about $3,000 in sponsorship money.

“My main role is to be a sponsorship director for this event,” said Sabarno Islam, 18, member of the Programming Club. “I had to contact hundreds of companies, make hundreds of phone calls and go to virtual meetings with potential sponsors.”

Shortly after Wilhacks kicked off on its first night, Remington Wolf brainstormed with his team of Wilcox peers to consider possible projects to work on, which included creating a clock that can tell how much time a student has until their next class and a program that syncs various messaging apps together.

“It’s really cool that we’re bringing hackathons to Wilcox,” Wolf said. “As someone who’s interested in a career in computer programming, I never had a chance to do one of these before. This is an opportunity for me to do more programming in a collaborative environment.”

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