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Annual 'HackHers' competition draws more than 600 students

Participants and spectators gathered in the Cook Student Center on Feb. 18 for the third annual HackHers event. The 24 hour hackathon focuses on women in computer science and engineering fields. – Photo by Raj Vaidya

More than 600 students visited the Cook Student Center between Feb.18 and 19 for the third annual HackHers coding and development competition.

HackHers is a 24-hour hackathon primarily centered around women, said School of Arts and Sciences senior Constantin Scoullis. A hackathon is a 24 to 36-hour event where people try to build an app or a similar technology-related project. Often, sponsors or recruiters are present and prizes are distributed at the end.

“HackHers is a woman-centered hackathon, so we mostly cater to women or people who identify as female in order to introduce them to technology, to coding, to tech culture,” the HackHers marketing lead said. “The point of a hackathon is to get (participants) to learn and build.”

HackHers began the competition early Saturday morning with breakfast and the opportunity to speak with recruiters at the event, she said. After organizers hosted an opening ceremony introducing the event’s sponsors and prizes, the competition began.

Students began coding after the ceremony ended, but had the opportunity to participate in workshops and fun activities throughout the day and night, Scoullis said.

“From the time hacking begins to the time hacking ends, there’s workshops to help (hackers) learn new technologies,” she said. “That’s generally the sequence until hacking ends. We try to do things differently every year.”

Beginners are welcome at the event, she said.

School of Arts and Sciences junior Kelly Tran, who is just entering the computer science field, said she attended HackHers to gain some experience. She had never participated in a hackathon before, and did not want to start with a larger event like HackRU.

“I wanted an environment that was less intimidating than HackRU, so HackHers, which is very woman-centric, is very easy to adjust to,” she said. “I think it’s less intimidating than a bigger hackathon. There’s a lot of familiar faces here and it’s very welcoming.”

Tran said her goal was to develop her skills through the weekend.

“I’m just trying to learn everything I can,” she said.

Scoullis said many of the workshops hosted through the weekend were specifically designed for beginners.

A representative from the National Center for Women and Information Technology hosted a workshop during the first afternoon explaining to students how to pursue opportunities in technology and obtain scholarships, she said.

Marie Kalliney, a representative of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., said this was the company’s first year sponsoring HackHers, although the organization has been sponsoring hackathons around the world for nearly half a dozen years.

“We love hackathons, but we are particularly interested in women in technology and we are relentlessly looking for women in technology, so when we heard about this event we were incredibly excited about it,” she said. “To see a female-centric hackathon is ingenious and we’re looking for the next top talent.”

Kalliney said her mother was a scientist, and helping other women join STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) fields is something she personally cares about. She also believes that helping women join technology or scientific fields is important on a professional level as well.

Letting novice developers know that they are also welcome at HackHers was one goal Scoullis had. Part of her marketing campaign focused on letting those with no experience know that they can also participate and learn from the event.

“Even though we market that it’s a beginner event, people are still shy,” she said. “But you can come in knowing nothing at all about programming, nothing about technology, and we will do everything and anything under the sun to help you feel prepared and build something. As long as you’re open-minded and you take risks, you’ll build very cool stuff.”

Nikhilesh De is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. He is a School of Arts and Sciences senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more. Abdallah Mohamed Ewis also contributed to this article.

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