ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Andover Students Lead First-Ever hackNEHS Hackathon

Andrew Wang ’18, Kevin Sun ’18, and Jocelyn Shen ’18 organized the first-ever Hack New England High Schools (hackNEHS), which was held last Saturday. Hosted by Microsoft in their Burlington Mall headquarters, 30 of the over 250 attendees were from Andover with the rest arriving from other high schools in the area. During the day, students spent nine hours networking, attending workshops, designing, and building original software-based products.

The event was organized in order to allow high school coders to learn more about their craft and to have the experience of participating in an event typically geared towards their older peers.

High school students don’t often have that many chances to participate in something like a hackathon because they are normally college events. They are for people who stay up all of one night to code. This event was specifically tailored for high school students, and it’s a really good experience for students to learn how to design a product. Most of the people I talked to after the event said that they learned a lot about coding just in those nine hours. And I think that’s great.

Several leaders in the technology industry opened the day by addressing the students. The program then led into four workshops covering different coding programs, ideation, and computer processing. After the opening ceremony, teams of six to eight students dispersed from the big conference room into the smaller design rooms to work on their product’s design, source code, and logo.

Finished products ranged from websites, mobile applications, and games. Sam Xifaras ’18 and his group designed a 2-D fighting game using Java.

“I went to my first hackathon on Sunday. I would describe it as [a place where students are] collaborating and building something that is innovative and entrepreneurial. From our perspective, the most challenging part was getting started with an idea,” Xifaras said.

Wang felt inspired to organize hackNEHS after attending several hacking and technology events last year in Cambridge, Mass. With the help of Sun, Wang began planning the logistics of the event and the website last year. Over the summer, Shen also joined the team.

Shen said, “High school students don’t have many chances to participate in something like a hackathon, because they are normally college events. This event was specifically tailored for high-school students, and it was a really good experience for students to learn how to design a product.”

The three Andover students also collaborated with Alec Sun PEA’17 and Vinjai Vale PEA’18, as well as a group of 20 mentors from Google Creative Labs, Cisco, and Amazon as well as software engineers and computer-science teachers.

“The most exciting moment was when we were giving out the awards. People came up to us afterwards telling us how much fun they had and thanking us for this opportunity. Our work really paid off,” said Shen.

After nine hours of coding, collaborating, and designing, students presented their products to a panel of four software entrepreneur judges, who graded the projects based on three categories: functionality, creativity, and technical difficulty.

At the end of the day, Andover’s team won with a personalized music generator. The team included Buzzy Barrow ’18, Darcy Meyer ’18, Alex Reichenbach ’18, Annika Sparrell ’18, Neil Masri ’19, and Varun Roy ’19.

“We worked together really well, which is probably why we did well. Our product was a generative music model in which you would go to this website and it would play generated computer music continuously so that you wouldn’t get distracted. It worked with the Hooktheory API and the probabilistic random walk mobility model for the melody. It was really fun, but quite stressful. I am definitely going to next year’s hackathon,” Reichenbach said.

Students were not required to have any prior coding experience or even a team. Attendees were also not charged admission fee thanks to competition’s sponsors which included Microsoft, Facebook, and Chipotle.