By Julianne Heberlein
Over 870 people attended Technica, the largest all-women’s hackathon in the world, in the Reckord Armory from Nov. 4-5.
For over 24 hours, women and gender non-binary students collaborated on various projects, ranging from a language teaching app to a menstrual product locator. Hackathons are collaborative programming events that typically take place over a weekend, in which participants work rapidly to complete a project.
Sophomore computer science major Priya Emani served as a sponsorship organizer for the event, after participating as a hacker in Technica last year. It took about nine months to organize the hackathon.
“Seeing how small the women population was in my major really kept me motivated to push and encourage more females to pursue computer science,” said Emani. “Last year, I remembered the environment that Technica fostered and cultivated for me. It felt very safe. I felt very accepted. I just wanted to be a part of something that would touch other women’s lives, where they could learn and be a part of something as big as this. “
The all-women’s hackathon aimed to increase gender diversity in the technology industry, different from the university’s annual Bitcamp hackathon. Bitcamp, which is held at the Xfinity Center every spring, allows anyone over 18 years old to register, but many participants identify as males.
Sophomore computer science major Elli Ugot attended Bitcamp in the spring but worked on her first project at Technica. She collaborated with her group members to develop a “Pad Finder.”
Ugot’s group chose this project for instances when girls are on their periods but don’t have tampons or pads on them. There are two different sides to the app: receiver or provider. Providers enter their contact information with location services on. Receivers looking for a pad can enter their contact information and search for a provider.
“It’s kind of like Uber in a sense where you can contact the person if you need to meet somewhere else,” said Ugot.
Regarding Technica’s atmosphere, Ugot said “It definitely feels empowering to me. As a girl in computer science, whenever I’m asking for help, I usually ask my guy friends because a lot of my friends who are in [computer science] are boys, but this time I get to work a lot more with women.”
Technica allowed only women or gender non-binary individuals to register as hackers, but all genders could participate as a mentors or volunteers.
Senior computer science and Germanic studies major Austin Bourgeois registered as a Technica mentor to support people who want to learn computer science. As a mentor, he answered hackers’ questions regarding how to create a visual application to display their internal ideas.
“I think the most important thing for getting women involved in STEM is to create [introductory computer science] courses in such a way that people without experience can succeed,” said Bourgeois. “If we can have it more successful at the intro level, and not so intimidating, then I think that’s how you do it. Just make it accessible and doable.”
Senior business and computer science major Sabrina Smai traveled to College Park from the University of Toronto to participate in Technica.
“It’s really awesome to see so many women all in one room being empowered by each other and learning from each other,” said Smai. “You never get that from any other hackathon – that’s the main reason why I’m here.”
While collaborating on a language app tailored toward quadriplegics, Smai said she noticed that innovation stems from the diversity of thought among group members.
“I’m really excited to see what projects come out of [Technica] – hopefully some revolutionary stuff,” said Smai. “This just goes toward the notion that investing in women and empowering them is important. Women in STEM are definitely evolving and exponentially growing.”
Students from universities all over the country were bussed to College Park for the hackathon. Buses departed from University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse University, Cornell University, University of Richmond, University of Virginia, George Mason University, New York University, City University of New York Brooklyn and Rutgers University to bring hackers to the event.
Technica had over 50 sponsors, including Amazon, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Booz Allen Hamilton, Leidos, Liberty Mutual Insurance and Facebook.
“Having women come out and really make their mark in such a male-dominated field is empowering – that’s honestly my favorite part of Technica,” said Emani.