Beverly Hills High School

Hackathons: A new era of technological breakthroughs

When people think about hacking, it is often associated with breaking into another’s website or social media account and using that information in malevolent manner. However, there is another form of hacking, in which people of all ages and backgrounds meet to create original, technology-based products.

These events, called Hackathons, are often attended by the largest technology companies in the world to help promote innovation among the next generation of hackers.

Hackathons have been around for decades within big technology companies, such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft. But only recently has the general public taken part in them.

“It’s like Top Chef for programmers, it’s a collaborative effort. Hackathons are a 24- to 36-hour sprint of innovation. And you don’t necessarily need to know how to hack to be able to go to a Hackathon, it’s a learning and collaborative environment,” Beverly alum Justin Brezhnev said.

After graduating from Beverly in 2010 and UCLA in 2014, Brezhnev joined Hacker Fund, a company that helps create smaller Hackathons at high schools across the nation, ranging, on average,  from 100 to 300 people. Currently, Brezhnev is working on BeverlyHacks, a Hackathon that will take place at Beverly Hills High School on March 19-20.

Overview of the crowd at HackGenY during the Hackathon. Photo by Justin Brezhnev


“We just did one in Silicon Valley called Hack GenY with 400 students. We get college mentors, to teach kids at a Hackathon level and we have them teach kids how to code,” Brezhnev said.

At Hack GenY many students from all over the nation commuted to Redwood, Calif., to participate in one of the many Hackathons that Hacker Fund produces each year.

Ari Berkowicz, a sophomore at Beverly, was just one of the many students who took park in Hack GenY. His team’s hack was a program that gave able bodied people a virtual simulation of what it is like to be in a wheelchair. Berkowicz and his team placed third overall out of 80 other teams in the Hackathon.

At Hack GenY and other Hackathons in general, it is very common that people do not sleep for the duration of the competition, to maximize their proficiency during the competition.

“I took one nap that was two hours and the rest I was awake for 20-something hours,” Berkowicz said.

Hackathons are more than just the event alone. Many companies attend these Hackathons to scout for future employees.

“If you go to a Hackathon you will meet people from Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Tidner, Microsoft. Like if you name it that’s where these companies are. They go to hire people because they see how the students and future workers work in a natural habitat,” Brezhnev said. “Because, if you put somebody in front of a computer in class and they are like ‘Oh, OK, it’s all theoretical.’ But when you put somebody in a Hackathon they are no longer learning the stroke, they’re actually swimming.”

Ever since his first Hackathon, Brezhnev has helped create over 30 Hackathons and hopes to continue to bring them to each and every students across the nation.

“The beautiful thing about a Hackathon is it’s not closed off, it’s a revolution. Kind of like the 70s where everyone was together listening to Zeppelin and all these new bands and it’s all just really open. It’s all just like that,” Brezhnev said. “You can just go in and ask anyone for help. You do not have to have any coding experience to be in a Hackathon, it is a learning experience for everyone. It’s a new world, man.”

—Ben Shofet