Upcoming Bay Area hackathon organized by veteran Harker coder


Provided by Nakul Bajaj.

Nakul Bajaj (11) speaks during HarkerHacks with fellow officers Rohan Sonecha (11), Arnav Joshi (11), Arjun Akkiraju (11), and Arun Sundaresan (11). HarkerHacks 2018 took place from June 9 – 10 at 42 Silicon Valley.

by Anika Rajamani, Reporter

For the past three years, the renowned HSHacks hackathon has invited coding neophytes and wizards alike from the Bay Area and beyond for a chance to test their skills through a day and a half of coding. This year, the hackathon continues in its fourth annual event this coming weekend in Palo Alto thanks to the help of junior Nakul Bajaj and his friends.

Nakul is now the lead organizer of this year’s HSHacks event, which was the first major high school hackathon run by Bay Area students. The event will take place from Oct. 20-21 at the Amazon Web Services office in Palo Alto. Attendees of all skill levels will be able to immerse themselves in code for 24 hours as they learn from mentors, attend workshops and compete against other participants for awards with the products they code up during the event.

“The importance of hackathons falls in line with the idea that we should be looking to create different products that are useable. We shouldn’t just be looking to achieve some goal in the academic environment,” Nakul said. “Hackathons are very focused on what can people use, rather than worrying about solving some obscure question that does not apply to real-life users.”

But Nakul didn’t start off leading prominent hackathons around the Bay Area: his coding journey started a decade ago. When he was just six years old, Nakul’s father brought home the original iPhone. Nakul’s curiosity and interest in the design and technology behind the device motivated him to research and find innovative ways to make his mark in the the digital world.  

In middle school, Nakul saw success with his first app, a simple game where the user was provided with a random number and asked to shift a small bar to predict where on a line from 1 to 100 this number would be.

To me, each pixel on the screen is something I can play around with and use to communicate something to the user.

— Nakul Bajaj

In subsequent years, as he took more online courses and developed a deeper understanding for software design, Nakul built upon his skills to learn to create more complex and detailed products, structuring his coding philosophy around the idea of building for the user.

“One thing I have always focused on is what is something that can actually go into the hands of a user that will directly benefit them,” Nakul said. “That is where design comes in because to me, each pixel on that screen is something that I can play around with and use to communicate something to the user.

To master his skills and learn the real-life applications of his knowledge, Nakul began to attend hackathons, 24-hour events where people work to create some technology that will finally be presented to a panel of judges. In his sophomore year, he and his friends formulated an idea to organize Harker’s first student-run hackathon. The inaugural Harker Hacks event took place earlier this year in June at 42 Silicon Valley, mirroring other major hackathons, and attracted more than 85 participants.

“The best part is the fact that I get to be a part of motivating different students to come to this event and start working on different types of software,” Nakul said. “About 60 percent of people who come to hackathons haven’t done any programming whatsoever, and giving them an experience that’s fun, spirited and exciting is the best part.”

Major factors that go into organizing a hackathon, as Nakul described, include outreach, to attract coders to the event; operations and planning logistics; and tech, which requires managing the hackathon’s online presence and setting up communication channels for attendees. Another especially significant part of planning the event is finding companies who are willing to be sponsors, donating money in return for advertising abilities and keynote speeches. This year’s HSHacks event is sponsored by Amazon Web Services, Repl.it, Balsamiq, User Testing, View, WikiHow, AoPS, StickerMule, Pixar and Product Hunt.

Managing this large array of tasks to organize a successful hackathon certainly takes  dedication and commitment from the organizers’ side, traits friend Avi Gulati (11) attests that Nakul embodies.

Inside the classroom, Nakul is focused and pragmatic. He sees a problem through until its end and won’t give up until he has the final answer. I personally feel that much of his resolve is a result of his positivity,” Avi said. “When a math question turns into a mess or conundrum, it’s often easy to call it quits and complain, but Nakul smiles and persists. Put simply, he keeps his cool no matter how stressful or complicated the circumstance.”