Seventh-graders Mia Bajic and Elma Nadarevic learned a little coding while taking a course on robotics.

It was fun, so both girls, students at the Utica Academy of Science Charter School, decided to sign up for the area’s first AT&T Youth Hack on Saturday, Feb. 2, at the thINCubator in Utica.

The free hackathon, which is open to kids ages 8 through 17, is being organized by AT&T, Tech4Kidz, Hack Upstate and the thINCubator. The day, which includes breakfast, lunch and candy breaks, will begin with an introduction to coding. Then the kids, who don’t have to have any coding experience, will be put into teams and asked to build apps, games, websites, animations and interactive stories related to the theme of cyberbullying and internet safety.

"When I heard there was a coding competition, I was interested right away and I thought it might be really fun," said Elma, who wants to work in technology someday.

Mia said she’d consider a coding career, but that’s not the only reason to care about coding.

"Whatever field you go into, you have to be aware of the technology that surrounds you," she said.

And that is a big point made by the hackathon’s organizers.

"I think it’s just becoming a skill set that, if you have, you’ll be very sought after in different fields, not just as a traditional programmer," said Pamela Puri, founder and CEO of Tech4Kidz in Syracuse, an event organizer.

Students competing in the Youth Hack will work with a team of mentors and projects will be judged by local tech experts and leaders on potential impact, quality of execution, and creativity or novelty. Prizes will be awarded for best design skills, code skills and teamwork.

The hackathon is one way to introduce kids to or encourage their interest in coding and possible careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine so they can meet the needs of area companies, said Ben Roberts, director of public affairs for AT&T.

"These are the jobs of the future so it’s something that’s vitally important to us as a tech company," he said.

Digital literacy is an important skill in the new economy, Roberts said.

"A lot of start-ups can’t find (enough) people to fill these jobs," he said.

The hackathon lets kids have fun and teaches them about what it’s like to work and collaborate on a project, Puri said.

"Whatever you’re going to do, coding is like having your child learn a language," she said. "Coding is a universal language."

Registration for the hackathon is limited to 50 students. Interested students may sign up at https://tech4kidz.net/events.