Marlboro students hack around the clock in a problem-solving marathon

MARLBORO – A hackathon is not what you might think it is. A hackathon is a group of computer enthusiasts who come together to solve problems.
Eight students from the Advanced Math and Science Academy of Marlboro are putting together a hackathon for high school students in May.
“We’re going to be one of the first hackathons on the East Coast that will be put together by students. Almost all of the hackathons now are based in a school or college,” said Aniruddh Iyengar of Boylston, one of the hackathon collaborators.
“Hacking is another term for problem solving, making a new app (a program or piece of computer software designed for a specific purpose). It’s exciting for kids to develop their own new cool ideas,” said Abhinav Kurada of Littleton.
Hackathons have been around for more than a decade, but only recently have gained in popularity. A recent hackathon attended by Mr. Iyengar at the University of Pennsylvania was a two-day affair that attracted thousands of college students from the region, as well as a few high school students.
“There is so much energy at these hackathons, and it’s all about building community, learning from mentors. A lot of students don’t know what to do with the skills they learn in the classroom. A hackathon brings those skills to a place where you can see, mentally, what to do with them,” he said.
The 24-hour hackathon that the students are planning will be held on May 21-22 at the Microsoft offices in One Cambridge Center in Cambridge. The event will host 220 high school students and will have everything that a successful hackathon requires: WiFi, food, soda and, most importantly, sponsors who will not only support the event financially but also introduce their newest technologies to the hackers.
“For instance, Microsoft has a cloud-computing platform that will be shared with the hackers. They will show the potential in using it. It will run the code that is written – it’s a huge amount of computing power, gigantic. There are benefits of just exploring cloud computing,” said Mr. Kurada.
Each of the eight students is responsible for a part of organizing the hackathon. Mr. Kurada is doing the work to gather sponsors for the event. Mr. Iyengar is in charge of marketing and outreach, including social media and branding; and Clinton’s Troy Slatkavitz is organizing the hardware end of hacking.
As Mr. Slatkavitz explains it, there are the coders, the ones who write programs to fulfill a purpose; and then there are the hardware guys who tinker with hardware design, using microchips and circuit boards.
“Think of them as builders (hardware designers) and writers (software programmers). At our hackathon there will be something for both. We will have teams working on a project, and both can be incorporated into that project. The teams will come up with their own projects. Winning is definitely not the goal – it’s the experience, the enthusiasm of the people you meet, meeting people who can teach you something new,” he said.
The organizing team already has a website and has received more than 200 responses from high school students in Massachusetts, across the nation and internationally. They are carefully screening the responses and say that hackathon experience is not a requirement and that enthusiasm, dedication to innovation and creative thinking are musts.
They say there is a great pool of student brain power right here in New England.
“There will be no charge to the participants, and they will be able to meet people who can teach them and show them resources that will give them new ideas. We want to start a movement to show that there are just as many resources here. We like to think that we are bringing Silicon Valley to New England,” said Mr. Kurada.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my life, starting something new and people are catching on to the idea,” said Mr. Iyengar.

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