They took on professional engineers. They took on college students. …. And they beat them all.
A team of nine computer science students from Mission Vista High School in the Vista Unified School District took first place in their category in a recent AT&T Mobile computer programming hackathon from among 10 teams comprised of 100 programmers.
Hackathons are computer coding competitions in which teams build mobile apps, which are presented to judges with prizes awarded for the best apps.
The competing teams included professionals from companies such as Intuit, Qualcomm and Intel and students from several universities.
“We were thinking we’d give it a shot and try to learn something,” said Luke Harvey, a member of the Mission Vista High School team.
With a hackathon theme of “Smart Cities” for their category, the task of the Mission Vista team was to design and implement a cell phone app that had practical uses for the city of San Diego, and they had to do it with a computer coding system they’d never used before, and they had to do it all within 24 hours.
“It was definitely a big challenge,” Luke said.
Joining Luke on the Mission Vista team were Alan Krause, Tyler Cook, Isaac Howard, Allan Garcia, Ryan Green, Annora Jones and Andrew Yates.
Their teacher, Jeffrey Yee, said it was the students’ perseverance and determination that paid off.
“Where a lot of kids would give up, not knowing the technology, they actually spent hours learning, going on the Internet finding examples, trying to learn this technology to win,” said Yee, who teaches computer science as part of Career Technical Education (CTE) at Mission Vista.
“I’m definitely surprised that they performed so well, but I’m not surprised that they could go out and learn something fairly rapidly,” Yee said. “I would hire them if they were actually looking for a job.”
The students created an app called SD Connected, which works on Android cell phones, to allow people to find information describing city events like concerts, sport matches and festivals.
“You can sort it by type, date and time of day,” Andrew said.
The app also enabled people using it to find their polling places on Election Day.
“A lot of us had done some coding, but we had never made an Android app before,” Luke said. “It was really difficult for us, because we had never programmed an Android before.”
Team members worked around-the-clock.
“Most of the students slept for only a few hours, spending most of the time focused on completing the app,” Yee said.
Along with the first place finish, the Mission Vista team received a prize of $500 in Amazon gift cards and a tour of the San Diego City Cybersecurity Division led by Gary Hayslip, chief information security officer.
“The hackathon would have been a success even if they had not won, but winning was the icing on the cake and confirmed that they could perform at the highest levels,” Yee said.
The students plan to refine their app over the coming months as a project for their high school computer programming club.
As exhausting as the hackathon was, Andrew said that given the chance, he’s ready to go to another hackathon.
“When the opportunity comes up, we’re always here to grab it,” Andrew said.