Zach Into 2020

Tag: hack-club

Let’s Be Pessimistic, For Once.

So I got into this long conversation with my co-leader of Hack Club & CodeDay a while back. We’re graduating, and although we have already found the succeeding generation of leaders for next year, we are starting to become concerned with these programs’ futures: What comes next? What will these programs look like? Who’s going to be leading them? Will they continue to grow?

Truth be told, yes, we really shouldn’t be concerned about all this. After all, that’s more than one and a half years from now.

Founding

3 years ago, we barely knew each other, but we somehow got introduced and started working together to create a coding club. Soon, the project became bigger than just a simple club – after recruiting a small team of club officers, we joined Hack Club, an international network of coding clubs led by students like us, and we started events like CodeDay and ran a series of smaller, in-school activities. 

It certainly did not feel like we were doing a ton of things back then, but now we’re looking back at it, all of us have been dedicating an enormous amount of energy and efforts into making these programs possible, apart from our own academic work. Throughout the process, we’ve collected experiences and resources after almost burning hours and hours of time. That’s exactly why we really hoped programs like CodeDay can not only continue, but can continue to grow after we graduate – we don’t want to see these time investments going to waste

On a personal level, I also really wanted students from our school to continue building these cool projects. My high school is highly competitive, and with that competitiveness comes a lot of labels: “try-hards”, “nerds”, etc. That’s not all there is to learning, and that’s not all it means to be good at learning.

I know this may sound selfish, but if there’s any progressive methods of learning like CodeDay and Hack Club growing in the area, I want these programs to be run by students of our school, because I know that they’re totally capable of running these awesome programs, and they can be the progressive force to lead the movements.

Leadership

Running a hackathon, a Hack Club, or even an organization like Execute Big is no “hard” task. Frankly, there’s not much high-level thinking involved in starting these programs (until you start to think about sustainability, which is a long-term thing) – anyone, regardless of skill levels, can do it.

But one important thing about running these programs, or rather, most non-academic programs in high school (or even some collegiate programs, presumably) is that you will really have to be willing to put in the huge amount of efforts required, to not only simply run the program, but to run an amazing program that you would eventually be proud of

To be a leader, you have to do the heavy-lifting, and you have to be genuinely interested in doing so. When all else fails, you are the only one who can bring everything back on track. 

Transition

Handing off a program to a new generation of leaders is hard, because while the responsibilities can very easily be passed on, giving away the pride of “I created and grew this program” is almost impossible. Without such pride, the next generation of leaders will be running a skeleton without a soul. They’re only keeping the program alive, yet not actually living its best life. 

Pay very close attention to the “pride” part – it is crucial, so crucial that a lot of experienced leaders tend to miss it completely when handling leadership transition. 

Pessimistic?

Realizing these things, I’ve decided to look at this “pessimistically”. I don’t always look at things this way, but for leadership transitioning, there’s not much better I can do.

The wand chooses the wizard, remember…

Once in every few years does a high school find someone willing to spend the majority of their free time to create a program that would benefit the community. A program is simply a tool – it’s a wand that makes the magic of coding, of community, of entrepreneurship, happen. It converts the creativity, the energy, and the leadership talents of the student leaders into the tangible impact that benefits the entire community. But the wizard does not choose the wand, no – the wand always chooses the wizard. A great program (whether it currently exists or not) will find its equally great leader to flourish. 

The Elder Wand, notably the most powerful want that has ever existed, failed to accommodate Voldemort at the end because it does not belong to him. Similarly, a well-established program, when being placed under the control of a new leader, while still operational, may not be able to reach its full potential. 

Exceptions happen, but this is likely inevitable. 

Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them

Not every program stays alive or stays alive in its current form. Things change – resource, environment, and even the “industry” itself. We have seen programs like PennApps, one of the nation’s oldest collegiate hackathons, basically changing the entirety of its well-established structure, and I’m sure that more will eventually follow. But hackathon or not, it’s just a format. A great program is never only defined by its format. 

It’s like natural selection – the fittest of programs that finds the most suitable leader in the current environment will prosper, and the rest of them will eventually come to a close. 

If they do die out, don’t pity them. They lived, and they brought impact to their communities. Now, the resources that were once used to create these programs are just somewhere else, cooking something even better. 

But wizards, do remember, a great wand does not simply find you. Go seek a wand that best expresses you, and use its power to change the world.

Source: Let’s Be Pessimistic, For Once. | The Third Attempt

My rejected letter for Hack Club’s first annual report

Three years ago, at 17, I started Hack Club because I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to feel isolated and to have trouble seeing a future for yourself. To think about ending your life because you have no hope for the future. High school was hard and I was lucky to find a way out through coding.

Here’s the thing most people don’t understand about learning: most of it comes down to love, not knowledge acquisition. If you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work. You don’t need tests, or homework, or arbitrary measures of success to figure out if students are actually learning. It’s so blatantly obvious – you can see it on their faces.

And this is the fundamental problem with classrooms: they don’t facilitate love. They don’t create community and rarely create excitement. Think about it: could you love anything if you had to do it on a fixed schedule, every day, from 8AM – 3PM in a kafkaesque, sterile classroom where you can barely tell what time it is? And of course it doesn’t end there: don’t forget about the four hours of take-home work, occasionally missing dinner with your family to get through it all.

Don’t dare stop and question it: if you don’t keep pushing through, you’ll end up in hell after it’s all over – days and nights of working at the gas station, no career advancement, no future. That’s what happens to people who don’t go to college. Your teacher said so. It’s heaven or hell at stake and if you pause to think, you’ll fall behind.

We’re killing our kids with this machine. 19% of high school students report having serious thoughts about ending their lives and 1 in 20 actually attempt it. It’s no surprise that less than half of high school students report having no hope for the future: what even is the future?

I started Hack Club to create an outlet, the way out that I wish I had. It’s the one skill where it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you look like, how old you are, who you identify as, or how much money your parents make. As long as you have a computer, internet access, and the right support network, you can do it. Coding can bring hope back to our youth – I’m living proof.

From day one, our goal with Hack Club has been to create a place in schools – a single place – that facilitates a love for learning. A place where students can get a spark and have the support they need to run with it. Hack Clubs start as clubs, but end as families.

If you told me when we launched this thing in January 2016 that we’d actually still be around today writing our first annual report, I’d be surprised. But if you told me about Athul Blesson, and Megan Cui, and Sean Kim, and Bhargav Yadavalli, and Selynna Sun, I straight up wouldn’t believe you.

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to see Hack Club blossom from a little idea in a tiny, overpriced bedroom in San Francisco to a thriving community of clubs at over 200 schools across 32 states and 13 countries reaching thousands of students.

This year we hit a big milestone: 10,000 students reached by our work. On one hand, things couldn’t be better: we have more money than I could have ever imagined when we started, our board is incredible, it feels like our students blowing our minds every week, but on the other hand the future is uncertain. Will we able able to hire and retain the right team? Can we build a sustainable financial model? What will happen when funders are no longer excited about coding education?

Here’s the thing about love: it’s contagious and insatiable. I know that no matter what the future holds, we – and our students – will focus on reaching one more student. All we need to do is reach one more student and it will all have been worth it.

– Zach


What we published instead:

Growing up, most kids dream of having a super power. Whether it’s spinning webs like Spiderman, flying like Superwoman, or—being a ’90s kid myself—casting spells like Harry Potter. Today, there’s a new super power youth seek and it’s a power with far more utility than shooting spider webs out of your wrist: coding.

While coding can truly feel like a super power, it’s more than that. The ability to code empowers anyone to create their own products and use technology to drive the change they want to see in the world. As coding becomes a form of digital literacy in nearly every possible career path, it’s more important than ever that every student, no matter their background, gender, or socio-economic status, has the tools to succeed.

Like many young students, I felt stuck and lacked hope for the future. Discovering coding changed my life and, ultimately, inspired me to start Hack Club after dropping out of high school at age 15. Hack Club’s unique “for the students, by the students” model empowers youth to lead and run their own after-school coding clubs.

2017 was a big year of growth for Hack Club:

  • 10,000 students impacted by our program
  • We doubled in size, from 97 to 201 schools
  • New chapters in 13 countries from China to Malta
  • Student led hackathon events across the country engaged thousands of students

It has been the single greatest privilege of my life to build Hack Club and see it grow to become something bigger than myself – and we are still just getting started. None of this would be possible without our generous donors.

Because of their invaluable support and mentorship, thousands of students have learned to code, joined a global community, and imagined a future with limitless potential.

With gratitude,
Zach Latta
Founder & Executive Director