Co-founded by three Indian Americans, it was created to fill a need for better opportunities outside the classroom setting.
Imagine almost 200 high school students, between age 13 and 18, together in the same building overnight. Ordinarily, this scenario might spark mental images of mass chaos and kids bouncing off the walls.
This past weekend, however, something extraordinary took place at the MetroHacks coding competition, or hackathon, in Cambridge, MA. Teenagers with multiple laptops, lots of snacks, and a passion for computer science filled the Student Organization Center at Hilles of Harvard College.
Over 24 hours, 46 teams of high school students generated ideas, learned and wrote code, created innovative projects, and collaborated to solve global social, health, and environmental issues. These students came together over the weekend to code, collaborate, and compete in a true display of learning, growth, and enthusiasm for technology.
The fourth MetroHacks flagship event, MetroHacks IV, which took place on May 25 and 26, attracted more than 170 participants from nine different states. The projects included a web app that helped users find the nearest trash cans by using Microsoft Azure Maps API and collecting user-generated data to locate them; a multi-sensor network that safeguarded athletes against dehydration by measuring the surrounding temperature, amount of sweat secreted, and amount of movement sensed; an app that provided a mode of communication for those with ALS by allowing them to communicate using only eye movements; and an app that helped users recycle by employing image recognition software to determine the type of material an object is made of and which recycling facilities can accept it.
All of these projects were created within the span of the weekend. There weren’t just advanced coders at the event; for almost half of the coders, MetroHacks IV was the first hackathon they had ever attended. For the first time, they were able to learn how to create websites and code in HTML and CSS, use and integrate APIs into their apps, and use coding languages to bring their ideas to life.
MetroHacks is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering high schools students with practical computer science education and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit. The goal is to create opportunities to learn and use computer science in a practical way by competing in an incubator-style environment.
The organization enables students to meet talented peers that they may otherwise not have interacted with and provides a platform to showcase coding skills and ideas. MetroHacks has run four 24-hour overnight hackathons in the past 4 years garnering between 150-250 participants varying each year, as well as two 12-hour girls’ conferences with 100-130 participants each. With the help of corporate sponsors like Microsoft, Staples, MassCEC, Snapchat, Rough Draft Ventures, and many others, all the events are entirely free of charge to participants.
From the start, MetroHacks has strived to make computer science education practical and accessible to all high schoolers. Co-founded by Shrunothra Ambati, Abhinav Kurada, Anthony Topper, and Aniruddh Iyengar in their senior year of high school in 2015, it was created to fill a need for better opportunities outside the classroom setting.
Each year, a new group of high school students takes the baton to manage the day-to-day operations of the organization and the events with guidance and mentorship from the co-founders. Julia Wu, a junior at Lexington High School, was Executive Director for this year’s events.
When asked why they remain connected to MetroHacks, Ambati, Co-founder and Chair of the Board of Directors, says, “MetroHacks has given me the opportunity to enable students to pursue their passion. I have seen girls who have not written a line of code go on to major in computer science in college after our events and leave with a sense of possibility and achievement. These students are coming up with solutions to global issues that may one day change how we live our lives.”
MetroHacks is helping solve a growing need to enable students with skills that are becoming increasingly in demand in the workplace. “This organization has recognized that we must start students on an early path to gaining practical and critical 21st-century technology skills,” says Kurada. “We want to help students realize that with these abilities, they can take their future in their hands, start their own businesses, or do anything to which they put their minds.”
After seeing the passion and desire that these high school hackathon participants have to make the world a better place and use their skills for the good of society, it is a reminder that organizations like MetroHacks and young people are really the future – and the future looks very prepared to tackle any new challenges that may come its way.