Los Angeles Business Journal

Contest Brings Kids Up to Code

Virtual Piggy’s hackathon restricts competitors to teenagers or younger. By Tom Dotan Monday, December 16, 2013

Hardly a weekend goes by in Los Angeles without some kind of a hackathon.

Virtual Piggy Inc. joined the fray earlier this month with a slightly different take on the timed programming competition: All coders must be teenaged or younger.

The El Segundo maker of the youth-oriented online payment system Oink held its event on a rainy Saturday at USC and brought in just under 100 ace junior coders. (Organizers said it would have been a bigger event had it not fallen on an SAT weekend.)

Participants had seven hours to create an app using mobile-friendly computer language HTML5. Ideas ranged from games to homework organizers to product review aggregators – the only criteria was that it needed to appeal to teens.

Virtual Piggy founder and Chief Executive Jo Webber marveled at how young some of the most capable participants were.

“There were little kids barely looking over the tabletops writing away with 30 lines of code on a page,” Webber said. “It was neat stuff.”

The coders, who ranged in age from 12 to 19, belied the seriousness of the competition, which was split into two categories, under 16 and 16 to 19. The winner in each was given a $10,000 scholarship and a future internship at Virtual Piggy.

Webber said the company plans on running another youth hackathon next year, perhaps several.

“America’s become the tech giant of the world but we’re not putting that intelligence into the next generation,” she said. “We wanted to do the hackathon to highlight this.”

– Tom Dotan