Hustle N’ Code is an annual Hackathon event in South Central Los Angeles sponsored by TXT: Teens Exploring Technology. TXT’s goal is to inspire and encourage underserved youth to pursue computer science. Many of these youth aren’t exposed to the typical resources of their peers that would allow them to explore an interest or career in computer science.
At Hustle N’ Code, boys and girls up to 18 years old form groups to solve an issue they see in their community. The hackathon is an all-day event that focuses on identifying a problem in their community and brainstorming a solution to that problem, whether that is a website, app, or some other solution involving code. Professional developers then mentor and guide them on creating their website or app from wireframe designs to implementation and final presentation.
From my experience volunteering at this hackathon, it is less about the cool prizes but the exposure to tech that many of the kids I was mentoring did not have. All of them were fascinated by code that they eventually wrote themselves. They were excited to see the end result show up on their screen.
Tips on Working with Youth
Let them answer the prompts on their own. It’s not their project anymore if they weren’t the ones to see the issue and brainstorm a solution. I believe this also helps teach kids how to problem solve.
Let them go at their own pace. At Hustle N’ Code the groups are split randomly so younger children can be in the same group as high schoolers. The younger children are generally happy with learning basic HTML and changing the color of their text, while the older kids may pick that up quickly and move on to creating buttons and hooking up basic click logic. I found that hand holding the older kids later in the event worked great and allowed them to be more creative.
Let them be curious. In my experience letting some of the kids be free to explore HTML and express what they were curious about worked better than trying to assign them concrete tasks that would win us the competition. This was especially true for very young children and shy kids.
Let them write the code. It makes kids feel like they did it themselves when they actually did it themselves. Writing the code for them may be faster but fails to reinforce the knowledge that they’re trying to learn. After hand holding them through a few lines they usually pick up what to do and can finish the rest with minimal supervision.
Make it fun! The goal of the hackathon is to inspire interest in computer science and the best way to do that is to make it fun! When I let my group choose their own images or write whatever they wanted they were way more engaged even if the things they chose were maybe not the best choices to win the competition.
It was a joy to see some of the kids in my group take the knowledge they had learned in such a short time and apply it to other areas of their code. Some of them were so engrossed they continued to tweak their code even when the hackathon was over.
Working with kids isn’t the easiest thing to do in general and teaching HTML on top of it is even harder but it’s worth it!
Jennifer is a Software Engineer who enjoys creating good looking ui that’s also functional. In her free time she likes to catch up on the latest streaming shows.