Esandi Perera, 16, a high school junior at The Waldorf...

Esandi Perera, 16, a high school junior at The Waldorf School of Garden City, is executive director of this year's TeenHacksLI hackathon, which will take place virtually. Credit: Roshan Perera

Teenage hackers from Long Island and beyond will ditch the sleeping bags this year as TeenHacksLI, an overnight, 24-hour coding marathon, morphs to an online event running over three Saturdays in November.

More than 300 high school students from 71 schools and 17 states have already signed on to the free opportunity for high school-aged coders to collaborate to tackle real-world issues. The group has a target of 500 participants for this year’s competition with the theme "Hacking for Humanity," says Esandi Perera, 16, a high school junior at The Waldorf School of Garden City and this year’s TeenHacksLI executive director.

One of the categories is Combating the Pandemic, in which teams are tasked with using computer science to slow the spread of the virus; another category, for instance, challenges teams to use technology to create sustainable solutions to the current climate crisis, Perera says. "Our main theme is COVID-19 because it has impacted everyone," Perera says.

TeenHacksLI is a student-run event founded in 2018 by two Long Island high school students to enable those interested in computer programming, engineering, designing and entrepreneurship to come together to create a project in 24 hours. In the past, hundreds of students gathered on a Long Island campus with their laptops, pillows and sleeping bags for an overnight that culminated with an awards ceremony and prizes. This year, the event will be split into parts on Nov. 7, 14 and 21.

Participants can sign up as a team of two to four students or be placed on a team if they sign up solo, Perera says. All levels of experience are welcome, Perera says. "Computer science is involved in finance and in government — you don’t specifically have to be a coder," Perera says. In fact, one of the awards is given to a team that the best beginner hack — meaning team members have little to no coding experience but still create a winning website, she says.

From noon to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7, TeenHacksLI will offer workshops and panels on artificial intelligence, women in STEM, cryptocurrency, introduction to HTML, CSS and JAVA and more. "Kids can learn, meet new people, and network," Perera says.

The heart of the hackathon will take place from noon on Nov. 14 to noon on Nov. 15, but students don’t have to be awake that entire time. Teams will decide themselves when to work on their projects with that time frame, and TeenHacksLI will run trivia games and other entertainment at various points during those days, Perera says.

On Nov. 21, teams will present their projects to the judges starting at noon, and at 5 p.m. winners will be announced. Prizes include AirPods, virtual augmented reality glasses, Amazon gift cards and even face masks with the TeenHacksLI logo, Perera says.

Students can sign up at Teenhacksli.com.