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Teens host free educational hackathon

LAHS student-led Los Altos Hacks celebrates its fourth year on March 23

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A team of students at Los Altos High School will bring together approximately 350 high school students across the Bay Area for a free-of-charge 24-hour hackathon that aims to empower students to apply computer science to real-world problems.

The fourth annual Los Altos Hacks will take place at the Juniper Aspiration Dome in Sunnyvale on March 23 and 24.

"Generally colleges and companies host hackathons, and they focus more on the competition aspect of coding," said Jamsheed Mistri, the lead and sponsorship director of Los Altos Hacks. "But our high school hackathon is more focused on the learning aspect. We're trying to get students interested in pursuing STEM careers."

Mistri said that while the Advanced Placement Computer Science course provides a strong foundation in basic principles, it is not representative of how computer science is implemented in the tech industry. Los Altos Hacks gives students the opportunity to create projects about issues they care about, alongside mentors who work in the tech industry. Silicon Valley executives will judge their projects.

In order to promote diversity, the team will provide travel reimbursement to fly 15 to 30 students to the hackathon.

"We want to promote technological careers to underrepresented minority groups because generally in tech jobs, you have this cookie cutter stereotype, and we're looking to break those stereotypes," said Katherine Nasif, outreach director of Los Altos Hacks.

Mistri said that they aim to have a balanced gender ratio this year, so women will be given preference when awarding travel reimbursements.

After an opening ceremony, hacking begins at noon on March 23. Students are encouraged to work in teams, and workshops will be held throughout the event.

"For example, we have a build-your-own-website workshop, where people can build their first website if they've never coded before," Mistri said. "For more advanced people, we have VMWare that is hosting a workshop about machine learning."

Throughout the evening, there will be other non-coding related activities like cup stacking and capture-the-flag. All meals are provided. The event concludes with judging and a closing ceremony at noon on Sunday.

Projects made through Los Altos Hacks will also have the potential to be further developed after the hackathon, as companies like Facebook, Juniper, VMWare and Pixar are sponsoring the event.

"We have some sponsors that actually want to take some of the prizes and invest in them," Mistri said. "If they like it, they can reach out."

The event is open to all high school students, regardless of coding experience.

"I feel like the hackathon environment is really a great place for this whole concept of idea hacking and literally taking a problem ... we face in everyday life, and really looking at what causes that problem and how can we fix it," Nasif said. "This whole culture of getting thinkers and makers together to really work on problems and figure out solutions (is something) that they will be able to use in the future."

More information about Los Altos Hacks is online at losaltoshacks.com or by emailing info@losaltoshacks.com.

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