Rutgers Women in Computer Science (WiCS) is currently accepting applications for the seventh annual iteration of HackHERS, the organization's own women-centric hackathon, which will be held virtually this year from Feb. 19 through Feb. 20.
HackHERS will bring together more than 500 students to create a programming project within 24 hours with the goal of supporting women and non-binary individuals in technology, according to the event’s website.
Rachel Chin, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and executive director of the hackathon, said the event is the largest female and non-binary hackathon in the state and hopes to contribute to closing the gender gap in technology.
“I actually read an article that (said) it’ll take over a hundred years for us to reach gender parity in computer science, so our goal is to help reach there quicker,” Chin said.
She said that hosting a hackathon that promotes women’s leadership in male-dominated fields like technology allows women to feel more comfortable and to connect with like-minded individuals.
While discussing the importance of HackHERS and similar events, Samantha Lee, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and co-president of WiCS, said she has observed some issues regarding equity and equality in other technology-related spaces on campus.
“Although the clubs are really great, there are some communities within the tech space, where it's a boy’s club, really,” Lee said. “I feel like there are a lot of men who aren't aware that they are taking up space where we want women to feel comfortable — where that is our main priority. And dealing with that has been a problem in the past.”
Chin said the event is also open to male-identifying participants who demonstrate their involvement in women-centric organizations. These individuals must also agree to uphold the event’s mission statement, which includes educating participants about inequality, empowering them to create projects and growing the HackHERS community.
She said that the hackathon hosts opening ceremonies and can assist members in forming teams. Participants can also engage in networking opportunities, games and sponsored events, such as resume reviews and career development workshops.
Lee said that HackHERS also typically hosts panels to discuss the roles that other social identities play in the technology field.
In the past, she said they have partnered with Out in Tech, an on-campus organization that focuses on mentoring LGBTQ+ individuals pursuing futures in technology, to have candid and open discussions regarding the experiences individuals face based on their identities.
Going forward, she said the organizers hope to incorporate discussions on other intersections of identity — such as race and ability.
Lee said that participants of various coding experience levels and academic backgrounds are welcome to join, as well as those with different goals of participating. For instance, students who have art or business backgrounds can apply their skills in graphic design or presentations during the hackathon, she said.
“Anyone can come,” Chin said. “It doesn't matter if you plan on hacking or plan on hanging out, making friends, learning something new. There is an event for everyone.”
HackHERS will be accepting priority applications until Feb. 1., which are limited to members of women-centric organizations, and participants must reside in the U.S.
Chin said that participants who apply during this period are guaranteed acceptance as well as additional benefits — such as merchandise and gift cards to purchase food during the event. After that date, applicants are not guaranteed additional benefits.
For those looking to get involved in ways other than programming, HackHERS is also accepting applications from prospective mentors, volunteers and judges.
“You're here to learn, you're here for the experience,” Lee said. “So even if you haven't ever attended a hackathon or you're not even in computer science and you don't know anything about code, you're still able to participate. And there's still room for you to be there if you are an ally of women or identify as a woman, or (are) non-binary.”