SRQHacks raises tech awareness while helping the community

Hackathon helps students experience the joy of creation and teaches them a thing or two about technology

SRQHacks hackathon raises tech awareness
Credit: Thinkstock

While scanning the news the other day, I came across a hackathon the Education Foundation of Sarasota is presenting in October.

The goal of the event is to engage students in Sarasota County (Sarasota, Florida) who are between 13 and 18 years of age in a digital leaning experience that promotes a better and deeper understanding of technology.

What is a hackathon?

What is a "hackathon" you say? I've seen it defined in the following way:

Noun: hackathon; plural noun: hackathons

"An event, typically lasting several days, in which a large number of people meet to engage in collaborative computer programming.

"A series of 48-hour hackathons to build new web and mobile services”

In this case, the sponsor describes the event as "an intense immersion experience where students join together with mentors to create an app or website that solves a community-wide issue."

Local business promotes the event and promotes itself

The business was helping to promote this event. I saw this as a wonderful demonstration of doing good while doing well, which is using your company's marketing budget in a way that helps the local community as well as the company.

The business in question, Sarasota Underground, is a local "incubator" that does its best to "use technology and new media to empower creative entrepreneurs, amplify the voice of area young professionals, and drive local commerce."

I've had the opportunity to speak with technologists from several companies being helped by Sarasota Underground and found them and their ideas quite refreshing for organizations deep in the heart of Florida. These companies also use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Meetup as ways to engage with the community.

srqhacks logo Education Foundation of Sarasota

Snapshot analysis

I was, and still am, impressed by the plan to put on an event to create enthusiasm for technology and draw students into learning more about how it works and how they can put it to work for themselves rather than being simply consumers.

As a master Cat Herder myself, I've learned that getting cats, in this case, students, to follow is easy. Just open a can of tuna, and start walking in the direction you'd like them to go. As long as they think they're going to get some tuna, they'll chose to follow you.

In this case, the students are the cats; learning more about technology is the direction the promoters want the cats, err students, to go; and taking part in a fun, competition is the tuna.

Sarasota Underground is doing its best to be in the middle of this great project by providing mentors and publicizing the event. Good job!

Riding the way-back machine

I'm reminded of a time earlier in my career when I had the opportunity to instruct an operating systems class presented by a university. I got "volunteered" to be the instructor when the official instructor left only days before the class was to be presented.

Why me? I had just completed the software installation (VMS operating system and several programming languages) on the university's first Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) VAX-11/780.

Part of my task as the onsite software consultant from DEC was to provide a short introduction to the operating system, how it functioned and some of the more important utilities the operating system offered. My employer also hoped I would convince the customer that DEC was doing its best to be a long-term friend and advisor.

I guess that I over did the enthusiasm a bit, and the university was persuaded to see me as a solution to their staffing problem.

I shortly found myself speaking to a room full of bright students. I decided to break through to them by asking the following question: "We've all heard that computers are taking over society. When do you think it happened?" Their answers were thoughtful and interesting, and most thought that the day computers would take over was far in the future.

I then went about the business of presenting facts that would support that our government, businesses and life were so tangled up with technology that we really couldn't function as we were without the help of computers back in the late 1960s. If I look around now, we rely even more heavily on technology. Most of us carry around a smartphone or tablet that dwarfs the power of that VAX-11/780, and we depend upon it for news, information, photographs and, oh yes, telephone communications throughout our day.

Demystify technology

It was my goal at the time to demystify systems software, help the students develop an enthusiasm for technology, and help them come to an understanding that they could join in the fun and make computers do exciting things.

The hackathon is certainly a different approach, but one that aims at the same goal.

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