Youth hacks

At the biggest European hacker congress there are hacker courses for young people. What they learn there? Not what you probably think. Above all, it’s about responsibility and tinkering for a better world.

Germany Youth hacks Berlin - 2016

Deutsche Welle: What is "Jugend hackt"??

Daniel Seitz: "Youth hacks is a program for young people who are enthusiastic about technology. Our motto is: "Improve the world with code". We regularly organize events where we give young people between the ages of 12 and 18 the opportunity to work with like-minded people on their ideas for a better world.

That means, you are not a club, but you organize events for young people. Hackathons?

Exactly, Hackathon is the format under which we operate. But we ourselves hardly use this term. Those who have already been to a hackathon know what is meant, but most people have no idea what it is. It is important for us to reach new young people – especially those who are otherwise not so technology-savvy. With a term like hackathon this does not work out.

What exactly can I imagine under it – what happens at such an event?

As a rule, we start the weekend with a thematic focus. After an initial input phase, the young people then start brainstorming. They develop their own prototype ideas and then implement them in teams.

Throughout the weekend, they work together with our mentors, who give tips but also make sure that the young people’s projects are within the realm of the feasible – not that the participants come up with projects that are utopian for the time available. Sunday afternoon there is always the big final presentation.

That still sounds quite theoretical. What could be a thematic focus for such a weekend – and what the outcome?

At our last main event in Berlin we had the topic "Boundaries in the mind". After the previous year’s "#refugeeswelcome" While we had chosen the theme of "No to" in general at the time of the welcome culture, this year we wanted to focus more on our own responsibility and also on the prejudices that each one of us somehow carries within us.

We wanted to focus young people’s attention on not abdicating responsibility. This often results in thinking in terms of solutions that are too big. We wanted to look more at the small scale, where can young people themselves contribute to improvement – and where are they perhaps part of a problem? Where have prejudices possibly become established among themselves??

And then what exactly has come out of it?

Tinder against racism. The idea behind it was to bring together people who hold very different racisms and views.

With this kind of Tinder platform, you first had to fill out a questionnaire to sign up. As a result, the user was then thrown into a chat room with someone who was very different in their basic attitude.

Media educator Daniel Seitz

Daniel Seitz is a media educator and pedagogical director of "Jugend hackt"

And that had the goal..?

. to prevent that we always move only in circles that are very similar to us, where people think very similarly. Now when you meet someone who is completely different, you automatically learn a new perspective. We start to rethink and question our own habits and attitudes. This is how we ultimately broaden our horizons.

So parents don’t have to worry about their kids coming home as hackers?

No. This is exactly what is implied by the unfortunately often obliquely used term hacker. For us, hacking means "the creative use of technology" – and not the hacking term often used in the media, which is about somehow illegally penetrating systems or doing illegal things. The name "Jugend hackt is therefore also very deliberately chosen, because we want to consciously counter this false image.

In fact, parents might be happy to see their kids come out of the weekend as hackers. They are also becoming aware of the responsibility that comes with using technology.

Which children and young people register for "Jugend hackt"? to?

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It is totally mixed. We are happy that again and again total beginners join us. On the other hand, there are also many young people who know some wacky programming languages, where we already have a hard time finding mentors who can still teach the kids something. Many are then with 14,15,16 years already so far in their ability that the adults can teach them in certain technical areas hardly still something.

…these are then natural talents?

Somehow. But it is important to know That what the young people can do at this point, they have taught themselves to. Because until now, unfortunately, there are still no places where they can really learn it from an early age. Unfortunately, society and our educational system do not address this need among young people at all – even though it is becoming increasingly important and interesting for children to do so.

The only advantage over the hackers of 20 years ago is that our young people have the Internet. This approach puts them way ahead of the old hands.

Do you notice that the interest among young people is increasing??

Yes, totally. We started in 2013 with 60 young people and didn’t know if there was any interest at all. But the places were fully booked. In our fourth year, we had just under 500 seats and they were nowhere near enough. We had many more registrations than we could handle.

Daniel Seitz is a media educator and pedagogical director of "Jugend hackt", a program for the promotion of young programmers in German-speaking countries. He is also the managing director of "mediale pfade", an association for media education, the "Youth hacks" since 2013 together with the "Open Knowledge Foundation" organizes.

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