Sophomore Sachin Katyal spent 36 hours in a Masonic temple in Detroit over a weekend in October. He didn’t know anyone and most of the people there were college students, but it was a great experience, and one he would like to recreate for Huntsville teenagers. No, he’s not a Mason, Sachin is a programmer, and the event he attended was MHacks 8, a programing competition or hackathon, where attendees work in teams to create a program during the allotted time of the event.
Sachin has been interested in computer science for the past couple of years and found out about hackathons. He really wanted to go to one, but closest one he could find was in Missouri. He started applying to them and trying to convince his parents to let him go.
“I had no idea what to expect,” he said. “When I walked in it was just astonishing to realize how many people there were all programming. Everyone was really friendly and like me they had all been teaching themselves.”
Sachin has taught himself coding online. He looks up syntax and languages as the need arises. He has learned HTML, CSS, PHP, Java, C++, Python, Swift, Objective-C, and Java for Android phones. He used to make duct tape wallets and bring them to school to sell them, but one day when he was learning languages, he realized he could make a website to sell the wallets online, so the summer after 8th grade, he built one. He has also created a couple of games and apps.
The hackathon Sachin attended in Michigan started on a Friday night with a meet and greet with sponsor tables, including Facebook and Google. There was an assembly and then people who had come on their own went to an area called the Blueprint Room to find people to be in a group with.
“Then we spent a couple of hours trying to figure out our project,” Sachin says. “We cycled through so many projects to the point where we only had nine hours left of the 36 hours.” It was at this point that they landed on their idea. “It was like a Siri website that would give you a response in a Trump quote or a Hillary quote; it was two in the morning – we were desperate for an idea and that was the best thing we could come up with! For me, it was less about the product and more about the experience and all that I learned from other people, whether it be about programming or just the whole experience of being there to learn about designing our own event. If I’m in the situation of having to travel so far to a high school hackathon, I’m sure others around here are in the same situation.”
“At the hackathon, I learned to not get so easily frustrated. At the beginning when we were trying to figure out our idea I realized you have to trust others in order to really collaborate. At one point we all got really frustrated and all started doing our own thing, but the next morning one my teammates said, ‘We can’t do this, put your emotions aside, we have to figure out an idea together,’ and that’s exactly what we did. One person wouldn’t have it at all and he just left the competition altogether, but after that, we started getting serious and developing ideas that would potentially work and started really enjoying the process. When I’m working with others I don’t just get frustrated because I don’t like the ideas or it’s not working out my way. I have to understand their perspective and come to an agreement.”
Classes that require a similar degree of collaboration are Human Physiology, Chemistry, and World History, because those are very group oriented, he says. “We have a lots of labs together and get partnered up in pairs and threes and when something goes wrong you can’t just blame others, you have to work it out. In History, we collaborate on the notes we’ve taken on our reading the night before. It helps you to communicate better and incorporating others’ ideas really helps you prepare better for projects and tests.”
From a young age Sachin says he was tinkering. “Whenever I was bored, I’d just go around the house and look in the garage for stuff and try to find something cool to make out of it. That’s what’s great about computer science – you’re not limited by the amount of money or materials that you have; your limitation is your imagination. You don’t need any other tools other than you and your computer, and to think that from my imagination I can create anything I want on the computer just really appeals to me.”
In addition to a demanding course load, Sachin is involved with Model UN, Science Olympiad, and the Robotics team. He plays basketball and soccer for Randolph, and he is a Boys and Girls Club tutor. “I’m trying to incorporate a programming class at their school because I believe that programming is as essential as math and science for the future. I feel that everyone needs to learn it. My goal is for every single person to learn programming.” Outside of school, he plays in a garage band called The Casuals with classmates Tyler Williams and Oakes Nelson.
Sachin is planning the Randolph hackathon, HackHSV, with Tyler, who runs a knife-sharpening business called The Cutting Edge; Tyler is helping with the business end of the operation, marketing and finding business partnerships. The boys will be reaching out to other schools, not just in Huntsville but in the southeast. Hackathons are usually 24-hour events but this one will be 12 hours. It’s for teens, 15-18 years old, with any level of experience, or just an interest in seeing what it’s all about. “Whether or not you know how to program, you will have a great experience and you should try it,” Sachin says.
Hack Hsv II will be held at Randolph School, Garth Campus, on February 24, 2018. Information and registration.