Local high-schooler hackathon wins an encore | January 6, 2017 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - January 6, 2017

Local high-schooler hackathon wins an encore

Los Altos Hacks aims to bring coding marathon to teen crowd

by Mark Noack

Los Altos High School senior Aashia Mehta isn't quite at the point where she can script a killer new app on her own. However, she and her friends have designed perhaps the next best thing — they built their own training-grounds to teach high schoolers how to plan, code and execute their own software.

Their 10-person club, Los Altos Hacks, is now preparing next month to put on their second hackathon, a 24-hour spree of coding and caffeine that sometimes results in true inspiration. This kind of marathon coding event is nothing new, Mehta admits, but not many of these events are geared for high schoolers.

"There's a lot of collegiate hackathons, but they mostly don't allow high schoolers to participate," she said. "You learn a lot of skills at these events that you don't learn in programming class because you're under pressure to complete something in 24 hours."

They took their idea for a maiden voyage last year, organizing the first-ever Los Altos Hacks event for a crowd of about 200 teenagers. In total about 35 projects were designed, including a virtual-reality interface for scanning Google search and calendar tools. Another winning project was an iPhone application that suggests recipes from photos of items in your refrigerator.

Putting on the event wasn't easy — it required eight months of planning and about $25,000, which thankfully was paid by sponsors. In particular, Microsoft provided crucial help by hosting the event at its La Avenida campus in Mountain View. Much of that cost came from providing free admission and three meals, both of which seemed like necessities for a high school crowd, Mehta said.

The bill for this year's event — Los Altos Hacks II — is expected to total only $12,000, thanks mainly to the Mexican-food chain Chipolte agreeing to provide most of the meals.

As of now, Los Altos Hacks II has signed up 15 schools and about 300 students. Mehta said the group is still working to attract more women in hopes of reaching a 1:1 gender ratio. They are also hoping to recruit more mentors who can help coach the younger crowd for the day.

Los Altos Hacks II is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Feb. 4 at the Evernote headquarters at 305 Walnut St. in Redwood City. Anyone interested in getting more information or participating in the event can learn more at www.losaltoshacks.com

Email Mark Noack at mnoack@mv-voice.com

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