Hack Club is not only a network of high school coding clubs — it is an active community of high school students with different backgrounds, interests, and experiences. We’ll be periodically featuring awesome club leaders in our community who are making differences in their respective communities with their clubs.
Dalton Craven is currently a senior and one of the leaders of Mason Hack Club in Ohio, and he has been leading his club for 2 and a half years. Not only is Mason Hack Club one of the most active clubs in the Hack Club community, but it is also the core of amazing programs and events such as Hack Camp, CincyHacks, and the upcoming Hack Cincinnati. As one of the leaders, Dalton is passionate about coding and has spent the past few years sharing his passion with other students.
Join us in an interview with Dalton, and see what it’s really like to be a member of the leaders’ community of Hack Club.
Briefly introduce yourself!
Hi! My name is Dalton Craven and I’m a senior at William Mason High School. I am currently a director of Mason Hack Club, and I’ve been involved with Hack Club for about three years now. Outside of coding, I like doing community service — I volunteer weekly at the public library assisting patrons with their technology questions. Outside of technology, I love working on my 1963 Mercury Comet (that’s a big passion of mine — for a while it was what I used for my profile pictures) and reading!
“How did you get into coding?”
I first started taking a programming class in my freshman year of high school. At that time, I was enrolled in some business class, but I found it kind of boring. Therefore, I decided to switch out to try computer science. I ended up loving it, so that’s how I got involved with the computer science curriculum at school.
Through Hack Club, I’ve built a lot of websites, worked with the school’s IT department, and completed internships with my local government, a startup, and a large company — all stemming from when I first met Megan and joined Hack Club.
“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
I know I’m going to do computer science, but I don’t know exactly what specifically I want to do within computer science (because every college has different specifics). Regarding post-grads, I thought about maybe getting a masters, although I might work first, just to see what’s out there.
I’ve had 3 internships — I interned with my local government, with a medium market research company, and I interned with a 5-person startup. And I think I really like the small-team dynamic — when you are in a smaller team, it’s easier to see what you’re doing and the impacts of your work.
Back when I was interning at the market research company, we started a website, but we were never able to finish it within the duration of the internship. Annie interned with me at both companies, and it just feels like when we are in the start-up-ey vibe that we can see what we’re doing with great clarity. So I would prefer working with a startup in the future.
What makes Mason Hack Club so awesome?
“What bridges the gap between Hack Club or events and CS classes at Mason?”
First of all, the computer science curriculum at Mason is great. However, 2 semesters of the curriculum is being taught in a programming language from 1998 before you actually start doing any Java. This setup doesn’t have much application for me. When Megan and Annie started Mason Hack Club, that kicked it off. It was web development. It was fun. And you’re making an impact while learning to code. Pretty much immediately I became fully involved in this type of program.
“Tell us a bit more about your meetings!”
We follow a continuous improvement plan for our meetings because every semester we try something and then everyone quits — then we try something else. It’s fun though — every year we start off with 60–70 members, and then it drops. We don’t do mandatory meetings or take attendance during meetings.
My club usually meets every Tuesday for an hour, and although we end at around 3:15, some people leave after. We run our meeting all in one classroom. In our old classroom in the past, there’re little clusters of tables, so people would sit at those tables, and we do announcements, followed by the workshop. A lot of times people don’t really listen to the workshop (which is perfectly fine) and some of them just work on their own personal projects. We don’t provide food except for intro meetings.
Recently, two of our leaders (Mark Senne and Nick Iten) created a new leadership structure— we have 3 months left in the semester: month one is going to be learning Python; month two is going to be game development using Unity and Java, etc., which a lot of us still need to learn how to do; and month three, which is what I’m most excited about, is “make your own startup idea”, where you create an idea and probably code a website for it. And that’ll be May, so we’ll graduate, and the students will go on summer vacation, so that’s their last thing in the club this year. We’ll have a discussion room to celebrate what we’ve done towards the end of the year, and that’ll be fun…
And there’s one more thing that makes Mason Hack Club unique from a lot of other clubs: development teams are something we introduced last semester… Because someone complained to us that Mason Hack Club is only giving opportunities to the leads, so the development teams where club members have to opportunity to contribute directly to websites of various groups. It didn’t go too well last year, but we’re restarting it this year, and I’ll be helping out.
“What does your leadership team look like?”
We’ve taken steps to make our leadership team more inclusive. The seniors are all pretty much core since the club started, but we have an open-application for next year’s leadership team because we wanted to train them, so we did that at the beginning of the year. Every current club leader has a few juniors working with them.
Our leadership team is very adaptable — we have our own titles, but they are not super rigid. And now, there’s a shift in power as the juniors gradually take over, which is why the leaders of Hack Cincinnati are all juniors, with the seniors helping out as advisors.
“What parts of leading a Hack Club are the most unforgettable?”
The people. We’ve done several big events, but I’ve never really been to a hackathon, except for CincyHacks, which I didn’t run because of the college season, but I went as a member. So the whole experience of hackathons I’ve only received from an organizational standpoint, so I’ll probably remember that too. But I think the most I’m going to remember the people. The seniors have been together for 2 and a half years, and for juniors, we’ve already fully incorporated them into our group. I think we have a pretty good community—we have our weekly meetings on Tuesdays, and we also have our leads meeting on Wednesdays, so every Wednesday all the leads are in a room together (which I think is really nice). Megan is obsessed with bubble tea and Qdoba so after the meeting, we would all go out to a mall nearby and hang out. So I think having this close leadership team is awesome, and it’s definitely something to remember.
What advice would you give to other leaders of Hack Club?
First thing I would say is to stay super organized. We have a Google Drive folder that has stayed remarkably intact. When Jack Margeson, for example, was on-boarded to our leadership team last year, he needed to find all the email resources that we collected. Immediately, someone on the team knew where all that was, therefore we are able to save the time to redo all the work.
Also, start early—which we did not do. But we’ve actually started Hack Cincinnati really early, although we have another event in March, so that’s a little stressful. But staying on time for things always makes it better. The biggest thing about Hack Club is that it’s always been fun — sometimes I might get stressed out of an event, but it’s never painful. An event is a really cool opportunity for our members, and organizing it is also an incredible experience.
Interview conducted by Max Wofford & written by Mingjie Jiang. Special thanks to Ava Scherocman, Evan Nishi, Kisha Yan, Larissa Tsai and Megan Cui for contributing to or proofreading this article.
Originally published on the Hack Club Medium Blog.