Hacking it up with Zach Latta

October 18, 2019

Zach Latta with CMC Professor Jeho Park and two local high school students.

A mother walks into the living room to find her 6-year-old son disassembling her computer, with a genuine intention to figure out how it all works. At the age of 7, the boy created his first website, and at the age of 17, he was part of Forbes 30 Under 30. He made it to the list as the founder of Hack Club, a non-profit network of coding clubs that is currently in 2% of high schools across America. This is Zach Latta, an entrepreneur who figured out from a small age that, in his words, “the world around us is built by people like you and me”. Zach was Kravis Lab’s guest for the Dinner with World Changer Series hosted Thursday 10/11. While students, faculty, and guests, including myself, were excited about learning his success and the world of coding, we can reassure we all ended our day motivated about our own next step.

When you hear about an entrepreneur who dropped out of high school, one might immediately assume he did that to dedicate his entire time to his successful startup. Honestly, we made that assumption too. It turns out, his story is more profound. The real reason why he decided to drop out of high school was that as a teenager, he felt isolated as he could not find a community that got excited about coding. He defines a hacker as someone who learns through building things, who sees the world and finds opportunities; for him, “hacking is the closest thing to a superpower”. In hope of finding a community of hackers, he was fortunate enough to move to Silicon Valley. He soon realized two factors: almost no high school offered hack clubs and most people cannot move hundreds of miles to find a community that they feel part of. So, he decided to bring the community to the high-school students by founding Hack Club.

After telling us his story, the dinner conversation shifted in a different direction: failures. What has been your biggest failure and how did you go through it? How do you deal with all the pressure of having your own non-profit at such a young age? Thanks to Zach, we realized entrepreneurs are human beings with emotions who navigate through daily obstacles with perseverance in a dream. He shared how often the biggest challenge is managing your own psychology and how failure often arises from assumptions.

For this journey, Zach provided valuable advice:

1. Create your own feedback loop (ever thought about mail-call?);

2. It can’t feel like work (In Zach’s words, “make learning more fun than scrolling through Instagram”);

3. Push just outside of your comfort zone (not so close but not so far);

Most importantly, when it comes to the next step, it’s all about breaking it down and finding the first step or in Zach’s case, the first student.

Written by Elizabeth Song ’22 and Fernanda Lozano Martinez ’20