Zach Latta, the 18-year-old founder and executive director of Hack Club, has been named to the Forbes’ 2016 edition of the “30 Under 30″ list.
Together with 25-year-old Jonathan Leung, Latta founded Hack Club, which helps high schoolers start coding clubs at their schools. The nonprofit provides schools with coding club curricula for free.
Hack Clubs have been founded at over 60 schools in 16 states and 6 countries, writes Abby Jackson of Business Insider, and it’s still rapidly expanding because of students who find the program online and want to start a chapter of their own.
The program is immensely popular. According to Latta, the first meetings usually draw in about 40 students.
Despite the student-centered nature of the program, most schools require a teacher sponsor to oversee the club, which usually holds two meetings a week.
Students typically move through the curriculum quickly because of the program’s focus on producing a finished product, writes Greg Thompson for THE Journal. However, Hack Club also keeps options open for students in a way that traditional computer science classes often can’t, and allows them to learn and build at their own pace.
If you’re a new club member, by the time you leave the first meeting, you have your first Web site online. By the second meeting, You’ve built a Web site that can call and text your phone. By the time you’ve left the third meeting, you’ve built your first game, and it’s online, and you can show your friends.
The clubs fill a computer science education gap by teaching students about coding, which existing computer science classes usually don’t do. The rare coding class will usually have an out-of-date curriculum that doesn’t include the type of activities that tech-savvy students are seeking.
Brent Smith, a math and AP Computer Science teacher at Los Altos High School, and a Hack Club sponsor, said:
I could see how some kids would want to just get out and apply things. They get interested when they can do stuff that they play with every day like the games or apps. We’ve been just starting to talk about a course where they can go and program. It does not exist right now.
Many Hack Club creations are on display on its website, including the Goldman Sachs-sponsored Kenko, which allows users to receive health information by taking a picture of their food.
By the age of 16, Latta had tested out of his Los Angeles high school (after creating a home-schooling program) and was working at Yo, a simple messaging service, as an engineer and lead backend developer. He left the company to begin Hack Club.
He is also a 2015 Thiel Fellow, one of 20 people who receive $100,000 and mentorship as long as they don’t attend college for two years. Latta has no plans of attending at all, reports Kavita Iyer of Tech Worm.
He applauds others who have chosen not to go to college, believing that self-teaching using the internet can have the same or greater value to an employer.