UMD hosts second annual women-only hackathon

More than 850 attendees filled the Reckford Armory this past weekend as the University of Maryland hosted Technica, the largest women-only hackathon in the world.

The event brought women all the way from Canada, Florida, North Carolina and a host of other states together for an educational and productive hacking experience.

A hackathon is not a time where people get together and try and commit cyber-crimes, but instead an event where people work to create anything involving programming or electronics. Sometimes hackathons may be extremely competitive as programmers and engineers battle for prizes and awards, while other events will be more based on learning and community.

“A hack is creating anything just to completion, it’s not neccessarily the most polished thing but it’s going from nothing and creating something in the amount of time that you have,” said Stefanie Cohen, a member of the community council for Major League Hacking.

The idea for an all-women hackathon came after the founder, Amritha Jayanti, went to her first hackathon at University of Maryland, a co-ed event called Bitcamp.

“I learned more in that weekend than I did the entire year because of the people I was around and how encouraging they were,” said Jayanti.

With only 17.9 percent of computer science degrees being earned by women, according to the National Science Foundation, Jayanti wanted to provide the same learning experience she had at Bitcamp, but focus it towards women. With that idea, Technica was born.

In only its second year, Technica secured 49 sponsors, including Facebook, Target, Bloomburg, Oculus and the FBI, which enabled participants to attend for free.

Tables with sponsors were set up all around the Armory and recruiters had lines of women eager to talk about advancements in their field and job and internship opportunities.

“I specifically targeted this event because it gave me three things I’m looking for in my recruiting,” said Desiree Smith, special agent and recruiter for the FBI’s Baltimore division. “First of all we’re looking for STEM … secondly we’re looking for women and third diversity, and this event brought all three to us in a sizable amount of people.”

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The overarching theme of Technica was how women are breaking down barriers in STEM. A sign that read “Women are strong as hell” was hung next to the main doorway, next to a sign that said “Technica is love. Technica is life.” The welcoming environment Technica provided new participants, with no judgement on skill level or experience, has helped Technica reach out to people who may not have wanted to initially participate in the male-dominated STEM.

“Technica and similar all-women hackathons are a good way to kind of break into that space in a slightly more comfortable way,” said Jenny Hottle, a member of Technica’s marketing team. “There’s a lot of motivation to just try something new and see what happens”

Technica is also open to all level of hackers, even those who have never coded before or have never taken a college class.

“I signed up for Code Academy and really liked it and so [Technica] seemed like a great next step,” said Flavia Dominguez, one of 13 students who came to the event from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.

The event was welcoming and exciting, and participants were encouraged to ask questions and raise new ideas.

“It’s exciting and it feels safer cause I don’t feel like I’m going to be shot down,” said Eden Anbinder, a participant who holds a degree in computer science from Saint Mary’s.

Hackers here also knew that their work was part of a bigger movement as women seek to gain more jobs in STEM.

“It’s a much more welcoming community,” said biomedical engineering and computer science major Hannah Voelker, a junior at Tufts University. “It’s very empowering to know that even though there is discrimination in the workforce, we are the next generation that’s going to graduate and join the workforce, and a lot is going to change.”

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