Congratulations to the students who participated in MenloHacks II this spring! A hackathon run by the students at Menlo School, MenloHacks gives aspiring high school programmers the opportunity to learn from each other and industry mentors. Students come from schools all around the Bay Area, and some traveled from as far as Southern California to participate. Once they arrive, teams of 4 experiment with new technology and create a collaborative project. Many of the students are first time hackers who’ve never coded before. This year, the teams’ final projects were judged by a panel that included tech heavyweights such as YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Dropbox COO Dennis Woodside.

As a proud sponsor of MenloHacks, WDA had a chance to ask one of the event’s student organizers, Menlo School sophomore Thomas Woodside, about the highlights.

William Duff Architects (WDA): Did you participate on any of the teams?

Thomas Woodside: As an organizer, it wouldn’t be seen as fair for me to participate on a team. Regardless, we were very busy, so there wouldn’t have been time.

WDA: What can you tell us about the winning project?

Woodside: The winning team created a keyboard for people with ALS who can’t use regular keyboards. They did this by using three cameras attached to a wooden board, which monitored the eye movement of the typist. It then synthesized text by using morse code base on these movements. I thought it was amazing because of the incredibly simple and relatively low-cost design. Although it was too technically demanding to be finished during the 24-hour event, it was still a great idea that has the potential to save lives.

WDA: Any highlights you wish to share about the event – funny stories, unexpected results, etc.?

Woodside: I’ll share two with you:

  • MenloHacks is only in its second year, but it has become known for having some of the best food of any hackathon. I loved seeing the reactions people had to our meals, which included Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, gourmet crepes, and ice cream. We even had a full-service barista from Coupa Cafe. Seeing all the food come together so well was one of the highlights of organizing.
  • There was a team of three people, two of which had never even programmed before. The third was very experienced, but still decided to spend his time helping the others learn to code and let them take on a significant portion of the work. By the end, the two were far more knowledgeable than you would expect from only 24 hours, and their app, a language crash course for travelers, won third place!

WDA: We are so impressed with all of the submissions. Officially judged for originality, technical difficulty, usefulness and polish, they also showed maturity, intelligence and creativity. Thanks for inviting us to be a part of this. We can’t wait to see how these apps develop!

Photography: Courtesy of Major League Hacking

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