Sunday, April 27, 2014

Guests of Honor at the Blacksburg Rackspace Grand Opening

Two days following VTHacks, we got a call from one of the Rackspace VTHacks judges, Zack Lytle, inviting the boys and us to the Rackspace Grand Opening later in the week. They had built a brand-new building (awesome workspace) in the Corporate Research Center. Here's a story about it.

The kids have a bit of history with Rackspace. About three years ago, the VP who heads up the Blacksburg Rackspace location, Doug Juanarena, invited the kids to tour their offices and learn more about what they do. I met Doug at the Weight Club and we'd chatted about the kids' interest in programming.

Kids in front of Rackspace poster they got at the tour three years ago!!!

The kids were enamored with the place and vowed to try to intern or work there as soon as they were old enough. Since then, they have worked really hard on programming skills and projects. So for them to return as invited guests to the Grand Opening was pretty awesome!!!

We learned from Zack that one of the reasons they won a Rackspace prize was their ability to work together as brothers, and the fact that Spencer described picking a project that he knew his brother could contribute to. Definitely a proud parent moment for us!

Doug acknowledged Spencer and Grant during his remarks, showing the tie between the company and the community. Rackspace contributes enormously to the community, not only through things like VTHacks, but the "Let's Code Blacksburg" program that offers programming workshops, making their facilities and resources available. Spencer and Grant are now in the pipeline to help TA and eventually perhaps teach courses of their own as part of that program.

We are enormously grateful to Rackspace and folks like Doug, Tweeks, Zack, and Sam for giving Spencer and Grant a place in the community, and validation that their skills matter. Middle school years can be a tough time for finding your place, but thanks to some key people (including their mentor Kevin) they have certainly found it!!

Doug, Spencer, Grant, Tweeks, and Zack

Crowd forming for the dedication

Awaiting the start

Tweeks showing an Arduino robot

Nice photo of Grant!


Last weekend, April 18-20, Spencer and Grant participated in VTHacks, Virginia Tech's first Hackathon. Around 600 college students from 90 universities turned out to work in groups for 36 hours to create a coding project from start to finish. Thanks to the kids' computer mentor, Kevin, Spencer and Grant were allowed in as the only non-college kids, at ages 12 and 14, grades 6 and 8.

I dropped them off at Cassell Coliseum at 5 pm on Friday, they came home Saturday morning from 7 to 11 for a quick nap, then returned and stayed until 2:30 pm on Sunday. All meals were provide and kids just slept wherever, whenever, as needed to get through the long weekend of work.

On Sunday all projects were presented at an "Expo" with awards announced following. To our tremendous surprise, Spencer and Grant were announced as winners of one of three prizes awarded by our local tech company, Rackspace! As if recognition were not enough, along with that comes a Rackspace Startup Package with Cloud servers and computing.

There were kids on the floor of the coliseum as well as around the mezzanine (or whatever you call that hallway that goes around the building). Check out all the toasters and bagels on the table.

Their "office" for the duration.

Speaking with the judges who critiqued, questioned, and offered advice.

Their mentor Kevin Malachowski (white shirt) who has taught them much. His team took first prize with their 3-D maze controlled by hand gestures.

Here's a great write-up about the Hackathon by Samuel Toriel, one of the Rackspace judges. Spencer and Grant are pictured with the other Rackspace awardees in their coveted Racksburg shirts!

This was an incredible experience for both Spencer and Grant and they left there even more motivated and fired up about programming. They learned a lot about the types of projects to tackle for a Hackathon and how to approach it.