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How Technica Went Virtual and Succeeded

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Technica hosted all their events virtually, and there were a lot of challenges that came with the shift. Technica is the world’s largest all-woman and nonbinary hackathon, and it’s hosted by students at the University of Maryland. 

Technica has continued to grow since its inception five years ago, hosting over 900 students in 2019 from all across North America. They invite hackers as young as middle schoolers to participate in building projects and educational workshops to grow their knowledge of technology.

According to the Technica 2019 Annual Report, a couple of Technica’s winning projects from last year included a student debt simulator — indicating the time it will take for a student to pay off their debt, considering real-life elements like unexpected expenses, financial investment, budgeting and personal well-being — and Hermes, an application that provides tourists with important information about the country they are visiting. 

Hackers from six continents participated this year. Women from around the world had access to the strong community and inclusive space that Technica offers. The theme, “Expand Your Horizons,” encouraged attendees to grow their knowledge and step out of their comfort zone.

When it came to planning Technica’s virtual shift, Technica’s press coordinator Eric Zhang said there were two main problems the Technica team needed to address: how they could keep the element of team bonding among the organizing team and how the community aspect of an in-person hackathon can remain.

“To overcome this, our awesome organizer experience team planned team bonding events through Zoom,” Zhang said. “The organizer experience team also matched people from different teams with each other and hosted ‘organizer team dates’ to help members get to know each other better.” 

Some of the events he mentioned were trivia and skribble.io. The team also kept the community aspect of the hackathon alive by including various workshops and bonding events like Bob Ross painting and open mic night. 

For this hackathon, Technica built their own online platform where hackers could easily navigate joining workshops, submitting their hacks, socializing with others and networking with sponsors. There were four tracks — beginners, general, hardware, and research — built for beginners and experienced hackers.

Jewel Burks Soloman, the head of Google startups in the U.S, spoke at the opening ceremony. She described her journey of developing her startup, Partpic, the challenges of being a founder and her goal to consider diversity, inclusion and equity when investing. She concluded by recognizing the work Technica does to support a “diverse range of women.”

Technica’s co-director of logistics Laudan Nikoobakht, whose team was an important part of making this year’s event successful, believes that introducing young women interested in tech to established career women can help them craft a path for their futures.

“Technica introduced me to professionals in stages ahead of me in life,” Nikoobakht said. “Whether it being those a few years ahead of me in my major, those who have graduated and are now in the real world of tech and working, or even through the sponsors of Technica, chances are that they too have gone through something similar to what a person may be experiencing, and are able to empathize and lead you down a clearer path.” 

Technica included events such as Technichat: Diversity and Inclusion, Underrepresented People in Tech, How to Scrape Twitter to Monitor Hate Speech, Importance of Building Equitable Tech, Non-Traditional Roles in Tech and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome. These events taught young hackers how to succeed despite challenges and make technology inclusive for everyone.

They also held a multitude of workshops to develop the technical skills of hackers including Getting Started with Machine Learning, Intro to Google Cloud and App Development with Flutter. 

Cadran Cowansage, the CEO and founder of Elpha, spoke at the closing ceremony. Elpha is an interactive online platform where women in tech can talk about their experiences and build both professional and social relationships. Cowansage shared several of her biggest takeaways from her decade of working in the tech industry.

“No matter what path you choose to take in this industry will be a whole lot easier and more sustainable if you focus less on the destination, and more on finding ways to enjoy the journey,” Cowansage said.

Overall, Technica pulled off another year of their hackathon, bringing more eager young hackers together and giving them the chance to dip their toes into the computer science pool or showcase their talent to prospective mentors.