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Shelburne-based Hack Club helps teens get interested in computers

A national group of coders has found their way to a small town right in the Champlain Valley.
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:24 AM EST
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SHELBURNE, Vt. (WCAX) - The Shelburne-based Hack Club looks to get teenagers interested in the internet and coding, all in a safe community.

“I started coding more and I was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of, kind of fun,’” said Amelie Fairweather, a seventh-grader.

Fairweather discovered she likes being a hacker, but not the ‘move millions into an offshore bank account’ kind of hacker. Instead it’s about learning code, making websites, and exploring what a computer is capable of. “It’s kind of like speaking another language in a way,” said Fairweather.

A language millions around the world can speak and Fairweather can communicate with. Her start was with the Hack Club. “What a hacker is is a creative problem solver,” said Zach Latta, a founder of the club. He created the group when he was 16 with savings from a job as an app developer. Now, he’s on a mission to create something he never had as a kid. “When I was a teenager, coding felt so lonely, because coding was always a solitary activity for me. I didn’t have adults that knew about it, I didn’t have friends that shared the interest.”

Now, through the nonprofit, upwards of 20,000 people in 22 countries are hacking, totally for free. “The role of Hack Club is, well, let’s build the most amazing community of teenagers that have this interest and are curious and want to take that first step,” said Latta.

They are meeting in libraries, schools, or houses, learning through online lessons and from volunteers, and practicing real skills. But it runs deeper. Latta says they are creating the problem solvers of tomorrow. “When you know how to build something and you build that engineering mindset, or that hacker mindset as we call it, you apply that to every other aspect of your life too,” he said.

And while Latta sees a bright future for the nonprofit and droves of future coders, he also sees opportunities he never had for young people like Fairweather.

“I got my website up and I was like, ‘Wow, and I got $100 for it and I was like wow,’” said Fairweather.

That ‘wow’ is why Latta keeps going, so more teens can connect and discover what is really behind a screen. “We believe that coding is the closest thing you can have to a superpower,” said Latta.

The group is donation-based. Their current biggest donor is Elon Musk.

They also encourage more young people to get involved. A good place to start is through your school, a place where computers and the internet can be accessed.

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