They Can Hack It

Sage Hill’s Hackathon Service Learning Hosts a Successful Event


Ian Grimm

On Friday, January 17 at about 6:00 p.m., a group of students filed into the McNeill Merz loft, pulled out laptops, and gazed forward at the small group of Sage Hill juniors and seniors at the projector. One of them takes the mic, and says, “Welcome to SageHack.”

SageHack is part of a new wave of computer-science education at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Aspiring entrepreneurs attempt to conceptualize, design, build, code and present a startup company within very limited time frames, often as short as 24 hours or less. Ideas with exceptional merit can win prizes, acclaim from judges and fellow attendees, and possibly even a deal from venture-capitalist investors seeking to realize the nascent concept.

While most Hackathons focus primarily on computer science projects, there are specialized events that focus instead on other scientific disciplines, where participants design practical products and wearables, engineering concepts that imagine creative uses for existing technology like solar power, and even potential innovations in biotech and medicine.

SageHack sets itself apart from the nearly 60 other active LA-area Hackathon events that have run in the last 12 months with its explicit focus on encouraging high-school students interested in computer science to train, compete, and build a company. 

Most current hackathons have broad college audiences—SageHack’s founder Jackie Ni discussed how at one of the first Hackathons he went to, his team was the only high school group—but SageHack’s focus on younger students helps develop the entrepreneurial ability required to succeed in real startup design.

While the team stepped into the Hackathon not knowing what to do, they found a lot of support for the event. Fifteen individual corporate sponsors provided funds, prizes, and supplies for the event, and the team is working on expanding that list in the future. Members of the Sage Hill community, including several current students and alumni, and others also provided support for the event.

“Our advisor is Mr. Miller, who has helped us manage, organize and run the event. We also work with an organization called Hack Club, who’ve helped sponsor us and provide the funds for our competition to succeed, and we’re in contact with UCI computer science professor Sandia Irani,” Ni said, elaborating on the people and groups who have helped make SageHack a reality.

The program was inspired by the previous experience Jackie Ni has had in past hackathons, and his desire to share his passion about it with the Sage community. Ni encourages the Sage community to attend future hackathons, including SageHack’s second event, which is coming up in April of 2020. 

“I’ve been to a number of hackathons before, and yeah they’re intimidating, yeah they’re stressful, but I feel like you get a lot out of it because after you go, you get a better sense of what you can do,” Ni said. “There’s a lot of possibilities out there, and there’s a lot of things to learn. You just have to do it.”