Benjamin Chen (陳昱安) didn’t know how intense a hackathon could be.
“You literally work non-stop. You don’t eat breakfast, you don’t eat lunch because you really need to finish the product,” the 10th-grader from Taipei American School says. “You feel the adrenaline rushing… It’s refreshing, I was like a new person.”
Chen became fascinated by these round-the-clock competitions to create technology or software products, and participated in 10 more before he decided to start one that focused on his twin passions of economics and technology. He says there are many hackathons that delve into social and environmental issues, but few have economics as the main theme, not to mention student-led and focused ones.
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Chen
He fondly recalls his first hackathon, where he and two teammates designed a phone app that allows people to earn virtual currency within the game by walking, encouraging them to reduce their carbon footprint.
He called up a friend who has organized several hackathons, and recruited an international team. Thousands of calls and e-mails to various institutions and companies later, and they had enough sponsors and guest speakers to make it a reality. Chen expects about 500 people to participate in the event, dubbed EconHacks, which will take place over 24 hours starting at noon on Feb. 13. Speakers will be presenting throughout the day on topics ranging from economic policy, financing a startup and virtual reality app-building. Participation is virtual and free to all 8th to 12th graders.
“The most important thing was getting the sponsors because people won’t join if you don’t have good prizes,” Chen says. Worth over NT$6.4 million, the prizes include cash rewards, various course and program subscriptions, promo codes as well as internship, exposure and funding opportunities through well-known tech-companies.
Though the specific theme will be announced during the opening ceremony, the core idea is to improve an aspect of the financial sector or help solve a current economic problem, especially anything related to COVID-19. The hackers will then form groups of one to four and begin work on a prototype.
“They’re going to be working the whole time, they’re not going to sleep and at the end they’re going to pitch their idea within a three-minute video,” Chen says.
Chen says his interest in economics was inspired by his father, who works in finance.
“Basically every conversation I have with my dad is about finance or economics, so from a very young age he expected me to do a finance job. But it’s not because he forced me or anything, I just find it very interesting and rewarding.”
Chen says the pitiful financial literacy of millennials also highlights the need to educate more young people on economics and especially how it relates to technology.
As more operations and ventures are moving online due to COVID-19, it’s important to understand this economic shift. Chen says that he hopes EconHacks will give young people more opportunities to think about such issues while rewarding the ones who are already passionate about them.
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