Redefining 'Hacker' In Technology Hotbed

Palo Alto, Calif., recently hosted a 12-hour bonanza for software developers, artists and families. The "Super Happy Block Party Hackathon" was a marathon for coders to make new software in a short amount of time. It also featured food trucks, music and homemade robots. Corey Takahashi reports.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The city of Palo Alto, California recently hosted a 12-hour bonanza for software developers, artists and families. It was called Super Happy Block Party Hackathon. And it was a marathon for programmers to make new software in a short amount of time. It also featured food trucks, children, music and homemade robots. Corey Takahashi reports.

COREY TAKAHASHI, BYLINE: The city of Palo Alto wants to redefine the word hacker as a term for a creator or innovator, not a lawbreaker. Its 34-year-old mayor, Yiaway Yeh supports this message.

MAYOR YIAWAY YEH: When you talked about hacking before, it would've been almost weird to think that hacking and government went hand in hand. You know, in the past, hacking was always about how you broke into systems, and how you accessed information that was really safeguarded.

TAKAHASHI: But in a tech center like Palo Alto, hacking is just part of a party.

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TAKAHASHI: The event takes over one of downtown's busiest streets, and draws in families and the general public. Co-organizer Frederik Hermann says even venture capitalists are standing by.

FREDERIK HERMANN: And people can even pitch their ideas, and maybe get funding for them. Where are the VCs?

TAKAHASHI: The legend of multinational tech companies, born in garages, defines this city's story. So, when stormy weather threatens to short-circuit the fun, organizers just move into a giant city parking garage, to the delight of co-organizer Celestine Johnson.

CELESTINE JOHNSON: You just think of it like layers in a dream. Like, you enter the garage, you have no idea what to expect. You see people painting on all these canvases. You see people eating from the food trucks. You go up to the next level - its startups in parking lots. There's a tech petting zoo.

TAKAHASHI: A tech petting zoo, improvised robots, coding classes for kids. John Milinovich says adults also appreciate the open, friendly vibe.

JOHN MILINOVICH: So, I work at Google. Jayant Sai works at LinkedIn.

TAKAHASHI: This all-star team is building an iPhone app that turns personal fitness data into a game. Like the Hackathon itself, their app is a mash-up of the physical and virtual. The developers test their app on iPhones, but they also run tests with endless rounds of jumping jacks.

MILINOVICH: I'm just thinking from a pitch perspective. That'd be perfect if we could get you onstage, actually doing the jumping jacks and showing that it's actually counting. I think that's...

TAKAHASHI: This team and the inaugural Super Happy Block Party Hackathon are fueled by pizza, caffeine and big dreams. And both rage on until 1 A.M. For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi.

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MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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