Straight Outta Compton to Coding


by Erika Maldonado

Lucio Villa, 28, creates web pages, sites and apps as a news applications developer for Hoy, part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group. Working in both web development and in photojournalism, he said it was difficult to find other people like him. He and his team at Latino Techies are working to solve this with what they call the first tech network for millennials in Chicago. They have already hosted the first Latino hackathon and bilingual tech fair in the city.

“Growing up in Compton made me realize the lack of resources within school and outside of it,” said Villa. “I didn’t feel challenged in school. I wish there were more computer science courses offered and I wish they offered more AP courses for students like me to be challenged.”

Hackathons, not to be confused with groups like the elusive Anonymous group or last year’s Sony controversy, have been growing in popularity as a vehicle to provide useful solutions for improving quality of life. From Los Angeles to the White House, web developers, engineers and people lacking technical skills, but are active in their communities are coming together to create websites or apps for social good.

Sabio and the Southern California Latino Policy Center’s January hackathon aimed to serve the needs of residents of Southeast Los Angeles, including Villa’s family who still live in Compton. Winning participants  earned more than $5,000 in prizes for creating solutions for traffic and congestion, more transparency and accountability in local government and lack of accessible open spaces.

Lucio-photo3Prizes aside, Sabio co-founder Liliana Monge says participating in hackathons are great for networking, can boost your resume and even land you a job.

Villa, who proudly describes himself as a nerd growing up has worked to expose youth from underserved communities to technology and motivate their curiosity. Since there weren’t any courses available for him to take during his time at Compton Unified School District schools, let alone a hackathon, he taught himself by checking out books on C++ programming and HTML from the library.

“Being in both worlds of journalism and technology, there’s a lack of diversity,” said Villa. “My goal is always to empower students, people of color and especially Latinos.”

Villa, who will be returning to California this year to join the San Francisco Chronicle as an interactive producer, says gentrification could be another issue tackled at the hackathon. Creating a website that tracks how median income, home prices and development in neighborhoods over a period of time have changed could predict patterns to identify the next gentrified community.

“I am not a math/stats wiz,” Villa said. “But I can see how neighborhood and community organizers could use this data to prepare residents for possible rent increases and empower them to fight against the pressure of being displaced.” Villa hopes to continue sharing his skills on accessing public data and creating communities for people of color to share the endless opportunities and possibilities technology has to offer.