Recently, Hive NYC received the following letter from four high school students that participated in the YRS NYC event we co-hosted with Young Rewired State and the Museum of the Moving Image in June. These students from High Tech High School in New Jersey heard about the event from Jonathan Olsen, their former teacher, who has also been involved with the Mozilla Webmaker Mentor community. They came to this event with little web development experience, but after winning Best in Show, then flying to the UK to participate in the Young Rewired State Festival of Code, you’ll see how they came out of the event inspired, having met and worked with some amazing mentors and peers on both sides of the Atlantic!
From left to right: Austin Eng, Matthew Hsu, Andrew Millman, Zachary Liu
What follows is a true testament to how our network aims to make meaningful impact on young people by creating innovative educational experiences that enable them to explore their interests, gain new skills and connect with new communities.
We hope these four young coders continue to follow their talents and we wish them success and a bright future ahead!
To the Mozilla Foundation:
We want to thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you gave us this summer. The YRS Festival of Code at both NYC and the UK are experiences we’ll never forget.
At first, we didn’t even have any idea what YRS was. We had no idea we would win at New York City. We had no idea we would end up going to the United Kingdom. There were many things we didn’t expect: presenting in front of hundreds of mentors and coders, meeting so many mentors and kids just like us.
By bringing Young Rewired State to NYC, you brought a completely new experience. In the past, we never had the opportunity to participate in a hackathon or similar event, because most were geared towards college students. We had never competed in or even heard of hackathons for younger students, let alone high schoolers. YRS NYC was our first exposure to this type of event and our first experience in such an environment.
As the day continued, we learned about what YRS was about, and we strengthened our resolve to develop an application that would be both practical and intuitive. It was our opportunity to make CityScenes.
Working with mentors from Code for America and MadLab
Without the invaluable wealth of ideas and suggestions from the mentors, our app would not exist. With their help, our ideas were able to prosper, and we were able to win the competition! From those two days alone, we expanded our knowledge of web development by so much and made new connections that will give us more opportunities in the future.
For most of us, this was our first visit to the United Kingdom. But the reputation of the British as wonderful hosts remains unchallenged. We received a warm welcome upon our arrival, and we eased right into local Manchester culture. Over the course of the week, we visited the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, we enjoyed tea with the Lord Mayor in his private parlor, we discovered our inner love for curry after dining at Curry Mile, we toured MediaCityUK, and we enjoyed rides on Manchester’s trams and double-decker buses.
Having tea with the queen!
But one thing that really set our experience apart was the passion of the mentors and fellow coders. We had the honor of working at the modern and comfortable facility in MediaCityUK, the BBC Bridgehouse building. There, we were met by supportive mentors who inspired a new app, SafeWalk, an application that provides optimized walking directions around Manchester City based on open crime data, as well as crowdsourced data on road conditions.
It really hit us when we arrived in Birmingham. That was when we realized how big Young Rewired State was. To see all the youth coding away and making fantastic applications – applications that would normally come out of months worth of work, was shocking to say the least. People younger than us were coming up with fantastic ideas and putting them into action! We were able to befriend a few coders (our new foreign Facebook friends) and even got the chance to meet the cofounder of WordPress!
In the zone at the Festival of Code
Our visit culminated in the honor to give a presentation during the final event in Birmingham. YRS gave us a special time slot during finals rounds, and it was our first time talking in front of so many people. Hands and feet trembling of stagefright, we told of our experience starting from New York with CityScenes and how we ended up in the UK developing SafeWalk. It was an adrenaline filled three minutes for the four of us.
Planning for SafeWalk
Before YRS, we knew very little about web development. But through this experience, we not only gained an appreciation for delicious British tea, but we also learned to appreciate the level of teamwork and management that goes into software development. When making CityScenes, our workflow was pretty disorganized and unfocused. We began coding before we planned out all the features of the app. But we learned from our mistakes and made changes with SafeWalk. We made flowcharts, listed our ideas and what we wanted to accomplish, and kept an up-to-date scrumboard during development. As a result, we were able to come out with a much more refined product. We also learned to use technologies that we never knew existed, such as Node.js, CoffeeScript, jQuery, CSS, LESS, HTML, PHP, Express, ejs, Mongodb, git, socketIO, and Bootstrap. Of course, this is a non-exhaustive list.
A funny fact that we realized was that YRS NYC coincided with another technology competition that we were unable to qualify for this year. And with just days to spare, we decided to sign up to go to New York. Indirectly, this situation has taught us a valuable life lesson: things work out. If we qualified, we wouldn’t have had the chance to go the NYC let alone the UK. Opportunities have a strange way of presenting themselves. Given the proper circumstances, events of the past cascade into an unpredictable future.
As Mozilla Hive NYC, you state that your goals are to forge novel education practices that transcend individual organizations, but you have gone beyond that. Not only have you provided us with technological education, but you have also provided us a chance to become familiar with a different culture, a chance to discover and explore, and a chance to build new bonds. It is true that under the correct circumstances, opportunity presents itself, but what you do is not random. You create opportunity; you create the circumstances that are necessary for these opportunities to exist on a day-to-day basis.
And so we would like to close this letter with a great thank you from the bottom of our hearts, with a full appreciation of the potential of organizations such as yourself to touch the lives of four simple high school students.
Austin Eng, Matthew Hsu, Zachary Liu, Andrew Millman
High Technology High School – Lincroft, NJ