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Dozens of children attend hackathon

I’m in!: Ryan Spencer, Berkeley Institute and Benjamin Braxton, who is home-schooled, team up to create an app at the Code 441 Hackathon (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Experts from the United States made a surprise appearance at an event teaching schoolchildren technology skills yesterday.

Seventy-five pupils gathered for the fifth annual Code 441 Hackathon at Axa XL, where they tackled subjects from simple coding to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Jahde Eve, 28, organised the event to try to give young people, including those who are not academic, a chance to gain an edge in the technology industry.

The panel of guests included David Burt, the Premier. Mr Eve gained two tutors after tourists Maria Hwang and Mark Santolucito, visiting from New York, found out about the hackathon through The Royal Gazette.

Ms Hwang, 34, and Mr Santolucito, 28, explained they were eating at the Hamilton Pastry Shop on Thursday when they noticed a discarded copy of the Gazette. Ms Hwang, a professor of computer science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, said: “After we read the article, we looked up the Code 441 website and contacted Jahde.

“We’re both in computer science, and people in our field are normally always interested in motivating other people to become involved in computer science and not to be scared of it.

“We’re educators, so it always comes naturally that we want to participate in something like this.”

Mr Santolucito, a computer science PhD student at Yale University, said: “On vacation, you want to do things that are fun and that you feel good about, and of course the opportunity to teach children computer science, that’s perfect.”

Mr Santalucito gave a machine learning crash course to advanced students while Ms Hwang guided beginners.

Ms Hwang said: “For me, it’s really important that people who don’t go through the traditional course do have an opportunity and can study computer science.

“It’s prevalent that females aren’t in the field, they feel like they don’t belong or that they can’t do it, so it’s very important for me to try to break that cycle.”

Another volunteer, Andrew Pang, 24, a friend of Mr Eve, travelled from New York.

He said: “It’s important that these children get to a place where they can help make the changes that they want to see happen in the world by learning these different languages to instruct the computers.”

TN Tatem Middle School pupil Jayden Symons, 11, was on the course for beginners.

He described the course as “extremely excellent” and added: “We’ve been learning about coding and how to fix bugs in the computer.

“It was very fun and enjoyable. It’s a great experience for me and the other young people that came.”

Mr Eve’s parents, Wendell and Marilyn Eve, have been attending the hackathons as volunteers since its inception in 2013. Wendell Eve said: “He’s always said that he wanted to come back to Bermuda and give back to the children, especially those that may not get the opportunity to do things like this otherwise. Each year I see more and more children coming, so it’s working.”

The project is sponsored by Hamilton Insurance Group, which has pledged to boost the digital literacy of Bermuda’s young people.