Admittedly, I’m a Facebook super fan (let’s just say I drink the Kool-Aid). For a long list of reasons, I have been fascinated with their company and business since around 2009. As a millennial, they have arguably been the biggest corporate influence on my generation. Whether my peers like to admit it or not, the scalable, social, and online nature of communication has forever changed as a direct result of their product. I’m a big believer in their mission to make the world more open and connected and think that what the company has accomplished has proven to be positive, significant, and meaningful on a global scale.
Naturally I jumped on the opportunity to attend the second education hackathon put on in partnership with the Gates Foundation. Not only was it a Facebook sponsored event, but I have a background in building education initiatives. One of my first professional projects was establishing an endowment for my former high school. I was fortunate to have a pretty great public school in my hometown, but even they struggled with funding basic necessities for students. It was inspiring to be part of an initiative where teachers and students alike were (and still are) so grateful for the micro grants we award each year. The monetary awards are small, but generally have a transformative effect on the quality of students’ education.
Because of my involvement in this project, I have great respect for the initiative Facebook has taken to further education reform. In addition to partnering with Gates, Mark Zuckerberg famously donated $100 million to Newark public schools. Unfortunately money cannot solve all of the problems facing the American education system and there are places like Newark with much bigger issues than my small town in Northern Michigan. That’s where the latest trend of Ed Tech has the biggest impact and why events like today’s hackathon are important to [literally] building progress in our schools.
Today, three teams from Hackbright (among the total 25 teams) attended the hackathon in attempt to build an application aiding students with either Social Learning, Out of School Study, or College Going. While prepping before the initial announcements, a Gates Foundation representative spoke with our team and teased us with the fact that things were going to be “very exciting in 10 minutes.” I joked with my teammates that either Zuck or Bill Gates was going to show up.
I was already in awe of just being at the headquarters, so when, 10 minutes later, SHERYL SANDBERG walked to the front of the room I had to remind myself to keep breathing.
She was naturally kick ass and inspiring, starting by cutting off her introduction with “No one cares” then reiterating the necessity for widespread education reform. It was probably for the best that her EA shuttled her out of the room so I didn’t make [more of] a fool of myself drooling over her mere presence.
The rest of the day Emily, Kat, KWu and I spent hacking on our application that provided related media content to students based on their interests and what they are currently studying in school. We learned a lot of lessons about our programming capabilities in a five hour time constraint. The final product was…a work in progress. Such is the nature of hackathons though, especially when you throw us a respectable challenge like today’s just five weeks into our programming careers.
Overall, it was an amazing experience and I was pretty proud of our team’s (and all of the Hackbright teams’!) efforts. We absolutely did not win, but in the end that was the last thing on my list of concerns. I spent a quality day in The Promised Land (sorry, KWu, I’m re-appropriating the title), sat five feet away from my idol, and helped to almost-deploy-a-semi-functioning-application (ADASFA? New verb?) for a great cause. I’m doing this program as a learning experience and a learning experience was precisely what today was.
Thank you to everyone at Facebook and Gates for hosting us and for a very valuable, memorable, and educational experience.