Tech coding picks up STEAM

By: Rhia Singh’17

On Friday, September 4th to Sunday, September 6th, Benjamin Spiegel’17, August Trollbäck’17, Mary Karroqe’16, and Kevin Zheng’17 participated in PennApps. PennApps is an international collegiate hackathon organized by the students of the University of Pennsylvania. Teams of up to 4 people spend 12-36 hours developing software and hardware solutions to real-world problems. These projects range in platform and application, including elements of web development, mobile applications, drones, and more.

Karroqe described the hackathon as:

“So amazing- I had attended hackathons before this one, but the dynamic of this

event was so different. It was an amazing thing to be roaming the halls of Wells

Fargo stadium at 4:30am, seeing nothing but rows and rows of tables of over-

caffeinated hackers, violently and furiously typing away at their laptops, sighing

in frustration.  It was even more amazing to see dedicated mentors, who dabble in

programming professionally, patrol those halls at 4:30am, helping these sleep-

deprived hackers.” PennApps is a place where people interested in coding can interact and get support.

Competitors at PennApps devolop original pieces of software. Spiegel, Trollbäck, Karroqe, and Zheng developed SemQuery, a search engine for code. Trollbäck stated, “It is a unique resource that allows programmers to work on projects more efficiently.” The engine is similar to the ‘find’ function on Word, as it allows programmers to find a code based on its characteristics.

After developing SemQuery, the students won 3rd place at PennApps, gaining them an invitation to the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) fair on October 7th at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. The  STEAM fair is a resource for educators to learn about opportunities in the STEAM field. Karroqe was unable to attend. During this event, Eric L. Adams, The Brooklyn Borough President, cited their achievements at PennApps and the students explained their piece of software to educators in the STEAM field. Spiegel described the event as a “thrilling experience.”

Mr. William, the Assistant Principal of the English Department and Brooklyn Tech’s administrative representative at the STEAM fair, stated that he “was amazed at why [the] students were invited there. They excelled at a competition that college students participated in! It was exciting to see their initiative and to watch them achieve higher than their esteemed potential.”

There are many ways for people to get involved in coding. These students researched and found this opportunity at PennApps using their own initiative. Zheng advises students interested in coding to, “Do something that you are interested in such as a video game, website or app.” It is also important to interact with like-minded people. Hackathon’s are a great place because of their lively atmosphere and there is no prior experience necessary. Other programs that might interest students interested in code are: The Young Hackers, a non-profit organization of high school students in New York City which organizes several hackathons a year intended for high school students, which Karroqe is member of. It may also help to research coding independently by using free online resources such as Khan Academy, Coursera, and Code Academy, which teach coding fundamentals.

Karroqe recommends that women interested in coding become members of:

“Organizations like Girls Who Code, She++, NCWIT (National Center for

Women and Information Technology), and Black Girl Code. Before I got into

coding, I had an image of programmers being only introverted men typing away

in the dark of their mothers’ basements. That’s not real. Programming is a skill

and profession that is collaborative by nature.”

Coding is a problem-solving activity that allows people to create something out of nothing and anyone can try it. PennApps is one opportunity to participate in a hackathon but there are many others. With dedication and passion for coding, anyone can move full STEAM ahead.

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