Growing Pains

HS Hackers Part II

I’m going to try to keep this short (edit: failed), mostly because every minute I spend staring at this draft, my Facebook tab continues to bleep and my phone continues to vibrate. And it’s not because I’m a particularly popular guy, it’s because a Facebook group is currently experiencing… growing pains.

HS Hackers projected flamewar condititions, circa 5 hours ago

As before, I’m going to assume you’re a member of HS Hackers, so you already know that the group recently hit 900 members, having been started only in September. In case you were busy for the past 24 hours (I was), you might have missed the massive brouhaha that descended upon our little corner of the Internet. In fact, this particular episode was basically just the assert that broke the whole test suite.

How we got here (macrocosm)

Over the past few months, HS Hackers’ membership has continued to steadily grow, and its focus has continued to blur. With the hackathon season now over, there were in fact very few things that were universally recognized as on-topic. Remember that this group was created during the kickoff of the 2013-2014 hackathon season, and its primary purpose was to be a community of high-schoolers who were, for lack of better terms, enthusiasts about and participants in the collegiate hackathon scene. A number of HS Hacker-organized, high-school-only hackathons have come out of the group’s community/membership, and it was an awesome place us to team form, hang out digitally, and point our friends to when they expressed interest in joining the community.

Houston, we have a problem (macrocosm)

But with the hackathon season all but over for the year, HS Hackers is feeling a bit like Voyager 1 — accomplished its mission, yet still wandering through cyberspace and uncharted territory. What exactly is our purpose? More on that down the page.

Actual photograph of HS Hackers, taken shortly before it outlasted its intended useful lifespan.

How we got here (microcosm)

This weekend, some members of the group took it upon themselves to organize a new initiative, billed as a “HS Hackers community project”, ostensibly in anticipatory celebration of the group’s crossing the 1000-member mark. Lots of people joined. Google Docs were shared. Posts were pinned. Plans were made. Domains were registered. A brand was established: “Codeucate”. It started blowing up. AND THAT’S AWESOME, RIGHT?

The fruits of a crowd-sourced iterative branding effort

Houston, we have a problem (microcosm)

Well, sort of. On the one hand, it was really cool that the project seemed to have taken off so quickly. On the other hand, it had grown so quickly that it was becoming hard to coordinate and communicate, and people began (understandably) to question its purpose.

“Isn’t this just free labor?”

“Who’s behind this, exactly?”

And so began the flamewar. But this post is NOT about writing and righting those wrongs. It’s about moving forward.

Moving Forward

  1. I have talked to the organizers of Codeucate. We agreed that all posts pertaining to that topic would be deleted from HS Hackers, and that all current and future discussion about the project will take place in a separate eponymously-titled Facebook group.
  2. I am going to re-enable the posting of threads in the group later tonight. I did this as a form of damage control, and because I personally did not understand the situation well enough at the time.
  3. HS Hackers and Codeucate are two separate groups. Obviously the latter was born out of the former, but it is clear that they should be separate. If you want to become involved in Codeucate, you are more than welcome to, but please keep those discussions out of HS Hackers, if for no other reasons than reducing noise in the group and maintaining my personal sanity.


There has been a lot of talk, both this weekend and over the past few months, about enforcing “rules” in the group, such as banning certain kinds of posts and comments. I really don’t want to do that. Why? Because frankly, I don’t think anyone, myself included, really knows what “on-topic” for the group is.

Is it hackathons? Is it internship advice? Is it, “Hey look at my cool new side-project”? Is it commiseration about APCS? Is it just general discussion about programming and technology?

I honestly don’t know any more, and I don’t feel comfortable imposing on the group. I’m not saying I’m stepping down as admin, and I will continue to moderate and/or delete actual spam, hateful content, ad-hominem attacks, and anything that seems to be malicious or, in my judgement, mean-spirited.

This community has grown much larger than I am—much larger than any of us—and I think the best medicine for our growing pains is probably what our moms and dads prescribed us all years ago: let them run their course. Of course, we can continue to treat the symptoms with ibuprofen and TLC, by moderating conscientiously and and by being mindful & respectful of each other. But this is our baby we’re talking about. His life is his own. Our job is to guide him on his journey of self-discovery—not send him off to reform school at the first sign of rebelliousness, or cut off his legs when he complains of growing pains.