The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


The student news site of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


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HackTJ hosts eleventh annual overnight competition

Catherine Tran
“I had three team members working on [the finance tracker]. It creates a pie chart to show you your expenses and where you should cut down on costs. We also had a [tool] to recommend stocks to invest in, and an AI chatbot to ask [additional questions] about finances,” freshman Kamel Elshaer said.

From Feb. 24-25, HackTJ—Jefferson’s 11th annual hackathon—was held this year. According to HackTJ’s official website, “HackTJ is a student-run hackathon where you will have 24 hours to learn how to code and/or work with your friends to make your idea come to life.” Many students from Fairfax County Public Schools participated in the competition and various workshops HackTJ had to offer.

This year, changes were made to how HackTJ was held compared to previous years. Most notably, computer science teacher Paul Kosek and physics teacher Mark Hannum sponsored HackTJ for the first time.

“There was a lot of getting to learn the ropes. There’s a lot of fantastic knowledge that gets passed on from year to year. There were things we learned [from the knowledge] to help prevent challenges from coming up,” Kosek said.

A significant amount of work went into preparing HackTJ 11.0. Sponsors Kosek and Hannum had to work with various outside companies and sponsors to make the event happen, with preparation beginning as early as September.

“The preparation begins at the beginning of the school year with the team meeting weekly and discussing what the schedule is going to look like,” Kosek said. “Then, there’s preparation in terms of sponsors, so we have to reach out and get sponsors for it. This event isn’t free, so we have major corporations that are coming in and helping us out. We’ve been talking to [Cvent] since September about what we were going to do [to secure the event location].”

When working on the event, Kosek and Hannum also had to consider how student creations were going to be judged. Student creations were judged in separate categories and given different awards, such as the Overall Hack award, Web App, Mobile App, Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence and Social Impact awards.

“We had to figure out the categories that people were going to submit projects to [and the] prizes to go with it,” Hannum said. “We [then] had to spend a lot of time thinking about the judging platform that we were going to use and how to design an online experience for people to submit their projects and for judges to look at them.”

Students participated in different workshops to use their programming skills in different ways. One workshop had a challenge to create an app idea with prizes for the top participants.

“There was a workshop to create an app idea, and I ended up making an app that would help choose clothing sizes, and I won a $25 gift card [from winning],” freshman Tony Wang said.

Not all students had prior knowledge of the programming languages used going into the event. In HackTJ, students had the opportunity to learn how to program in languages to aid them in their projects.

“I’ve done foundations, and I thought it would be somewhat related to foundations, but it was mostly web development. It was a completely different type of coding, which I didn’t have a lot of experience in, so we had to learn on the fly,” freshman Tristan Park said. “[At HackTJ], I learned a lot about how to get into web development and what to learn next.”

HackTJ 11.0 expanded on previous iterations, with one of the largest innovations being a quantum computing path. HackTJ was one of the first high school hackathons to take advantage of the technology.

“Not only was TJ one of the very first hackathons in the country, [but it was also] one of the first places where high school students did ML and AI-based projects,” Hannum said. “We had a new track this year, which was a quantum track where students could submit a project that made use of quantum computing for the first time. And now, we can safely say that we’re one of the first high school hackathons in the country, if not the world, that did quantum computing.”

HackTJ 11.0 ended up being a huge success for Kosek, Hannum, their team and all of the students participating.

“I am extraordinarily appreciative of the help that was given in the work that was done behind the scenes. When an event like this takes place, many people behind the scenes made this happen who a lot of the students don’t know made it happen,” Kosek said. “A lot of people put a lot of really hard work to make this happen, and I’m appreciative [of] all of them.”

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