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Hacking for a virtual world

September 24th, 2020

Distance learning, despite its challenges, allows us to think beyond the confines of the classroom and redefine what’s possible. Turns out a lot is possible when you make an event virtual.

Each year Code Next, Code with Google’s free computer science education program for Black and Latino high schoolers in New York and Oakland, hosts a hackathon. It’s a three-day event for student members to develop and pitch app ideas to a panel of judges. In previous years, the hackathons were local events attended by students, families, Google volunteers, and community members passionate about equity in computing.

This year’s hackathon was virtual, which meant for the first time ever, the event was not limited to one geographic region. Instead, our Harlem and Oakland labs found themselves together in one (virtual) room. Students thousands of miles away from each other came together for a three-day online workshop to build tech solutions inspired by this year’s theme, “Digital Wellness.” After months of lockdown and limited access to loved ones, and anxieties brought about by illness and isolation, we thought this theme was particularly relevant.

“Looking at the community and the problems that are embedded in it motivates me to do more and to do better,” says Oakland Code Next Student Nalani Gomez-Curiel. Her group created the website Mission DAP, an online support group for victims of domestic abuse.

Code Next Hackathon winning app
Code Next students Gideon Buddenhaggen (Oakland), Steve Leke (Oakland), Brios Oliveras (Harlem) and Mannendri Oliveras (Harlem) present their web app “Melly.”

During the hackathon, Google employees mentored the students on technical topics, project ideation, making an effective pitch and working with Github. This Googler-student interaction is one of the most important aspects of the Code Next model, where we help students make connections with people in the tech industry. And this year, because the event was virtual, students were able to connect with  Googler volunteers from all around the globe.

After months of virtual learning, our students stayed engaged throughout the whole weekend. They worked late into the night and developed new friendships with students and Googlers across time zones. They learned that they had things in common.  They built solutions that resonated with them and their communities. They made plans to meet someday, “once this is all over.”

Here’s a list of this year’s winners:

Best Web App: “Melly” connects people to medical professionals at no cost Gideon Buddenhaggen, Steve Leke, Brios Oliveras and Mannendri Oliveras

Best Android App: “Better Care” educates people on self-care practices and activities Richlove Nkansah, Tianna Wilson, Daniela Cabral, Yamila Rangel, Fanta Kante

Best Website: “Lifelit” tracks notes to better organize day to day tasks Thanhbinh Ngyuen, David Ung, Orvile Escalante, Thanhthanh Ngyuen

Judges Awards (Honorable Mention): 

“MCS” entertains young people on strategies to keep a healthy mindset while coping with virtual living Daniella Billini, Cydney Hayes, Shariana Allen

“Greatest Wealth is Health” provides digital workout classes to promote wellbeing Dana Arce, Marisol Torres, Isabella Schell, Sky-Lailonnie Owens, Adolfo Campos

Congrats to the winners!