Building a Community for High Schoolers Who Code

Avi Romanoff:

Last September, the day before PennApps 2013f, a 48-hour, 1,000+ student hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania, I created a Facebook Group called “PennApps HS Hackers” for the dozen or so high school students who were also attending the event.

If the words “hacker” and “hackathon” evoke mental images of scary-looking criminals breaking into computers, I can assure you we’re nothing like that. Hackers, in the original spirit of the term, are programmers and designers who use technology to build things — not destroy things. Hackathons are events where hackers of all kinds come together to collaborate on new projects and compete for prizes, often on college campuses.

Turns out I picked an incredible time to start a community — the hackathon scene exploded in rhythm with my Facebook Group. In the course of a school year, the group would grow to include high schoolers from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries, organizers from nearly every major U.S. college hackathon, founders of high school hackathons and hacker meetups, and even the president of the well-known startup incubator, Y Combinator.