The Mentor Army
Student: "I was told to find the guy in the cat suit if I needed a mentor."
Hacker Fund is a 501(c)(3) public charity that is dedicated to providing resources for computer science education. But how did we go from idea to a squad of mentors in animal onesies around the country?
It all started with a Facebook post in Hackathon Hackers.
I was sitting on the flight from HackGT and kept remembering how distraught collegiate hacker Anthony Lobko was when he realized he couldn't raise enough funds to attend CalHacks. Here's a student who built a hologram in 36 hours and wants to keep learning in the hackathon environment but can't make it to his next event because of a lack of funds. It was painful.
I felt compelled to ask the community for their opinion. So I posted this into a popular Facebook group, Hackathon Hackers:
That post went viral in the group and the very next day, I bought the domain hacker.fund to begin the journey. At that time, I was consulting local LA startups about growth-hacking alongside my cofounders Justin Ezor (Zoro) & Shahan Khan, and was also finishing my sixth month as Coaching Program Director of Major League Hacking. When I proposed this idea of Hacker Fund to Shahan & Zoro, they were immediately interested in applying to YC with the idea.
We didn’t get in. That's when we made our first pivot.
We noticed that there was no support for hackathons at the high school level. But while I was at Major League Hacking, I noticed that high school students were building projects that made it to Top 3 at the collegiate competitions.
Why not try to organize a high school hackathon?
Shahan and Zoro joined me at a meeting with the school board of my alma mater, Beverly Hills High School. During that conversation, the Chief Academic Officer walked into the room and interrupted our hackathon pitch with the request of a lifetime:
Can you consult our school district and assist the “Intro to Programming” teachers with delivering relevant computer science education?
It was at that moment that our team realized that Hacker Fund could be much more than just a hackathon organization, so we incorporated Hacker Fund as a nonprofit.
We received our 501(c)(3) tax exemption in June 2015 and built a strong founding Board of Directors to join us, comprised of vocal figures from the hackathon community: Daniel Eckert, Ari Vaniderstine, Cassidy Williams, David Mace, Connor Crowley, and Ishmael Philip. We had friends at Google, Microsoft, Apple, Snapchat, and Tinder who all wanted to volunteer because they remembered a time in which they wanted a mentor.
We felt unstoppable.
After inspiring one educator, the waterfall of introductions came pouring down on us and we made it to one of the largest high school districts in the nation, Los Angeles Unified School District. We began to receive questions from teachers like:
“How do we connect to the industry?”
“Can you bring an engineer from a famous tech company into our classroom?”
“Will you teach our kids after-school?”
“Can you organize a hackathon for our school?”
“Do you have summer opportunities?”
“Is there a place students can go outside of school to continue learning?”
All of those questions became projects...and we did it all.
We supported HSHacks, the largest high school hackathon in history, checking in 1000+ students who wanted to learn computer science.
We staffed the Harold Robinson Foundation's summer camps with our mentors.
We partnered with Rhubarb Studios to create an enrichment center for after-school programs in the tallest building West of the Mississippi River, the US Bank Tower in Los Angeles.
But the epiphany came when we received this question from an administrator who was directing curriculum standards in her school district:
“How do we teach like you?”
BOOM. That was it.
It wasn't our curriculum — students can get it online.
It wasn't our hardware — teachers can buy it online.
It was our mentors — we are friends with them, online.
We realized that we were friends with top professionals from the tech industry. Thank you, hackathons.
Now, it's 2016 and we are on a mentour — a cross-country quest to build mentor communities that can change the face of computer science education. We are recruiting, training, and staffing mentors who want to give back to the community by inspiring the next generation of technologists.
If you’re interested in becoming a mentor and inspiring students to believe that they will hack, click here to apply.