If you were to ask me a month ago what the hell Github is and how to work a Github repository, you might as well have asked me how to pilot a spaceship because I had literally no idea. But it’s cool and fascinating stuff like this that I learned at hackathons. A hackathon is a crazy fun event in which teams of four or less people try to create a program in a short amount of time (usually in 36 or 24 hours). They also give out a lot of free swag and a ton of free food. Sounds crazy right? I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and see what these events are all about.
For my first hackathon I decided to attend the Kik Hackathon, which was exclusive to Waterloo students. At first I was nervous and terrified because the majority of people at the hackathon were males in a STEM major and it’s intimidating being a female minority in a different field of study. Somehow I found myself in a team with Joy Gao who is in 4A computer science, Tristan Kuehn who is in 2A systems design engineering and Scottie Yan who is in 1B mechatronic engineering. After brainstorming a few ideas for the app we were going to make, my anxieties from before started to disappear. My team decided to build a website called WATSSUROUND that can track your exact location and from that location you can send a message (check it out here). For the most part, I found myself working on my own while my team built the app and I’ll be honest, most of the time I had no idea what they were talking about. That weekend pretty much consisted of little to no sleep, lots of food and staring at a computer screen for most of the day, but it was all worth it because I had a great time and it all worked out! This hackathon taught some of my team members new program language and I gained some perspective on how to build a website. Learning how to work on a project with complete strangers was the biggest achievement in my eyes.
My team at the Kik Hackathon! (From Left to Right) Tristan Kuehn, Scottie Yan, Me; Missing: Joy Gao
I had so much fun at my first hackathon that I decided to participate in Delta Hacks at McMaster University (which is the hackathon where I learned to use GitHub). Luckily, I found a team before the event via Facebook which relieved a lot of anxiety! My team consisted of all females; Chenlei Shen who is in first year systems design engineering at Waterloo, Faye Feng who is in third year genetics and computer science at U of Toronto and Judy Shen who is in third year computer engineering at U of Toronto. At this hackathon, we decided to create an android app called Walk Smart which makes people feel safer walking home alone at night by automatically contacting your pre-chosen friends if something happens to you (check it out here). This hackathon consisted of jamming out to Taylor Swift’s 1989 and lots of snapchats which was a ton of fun. At this hackathon in particular, 25% of the participants were female, making it one of the highest female attended hackathons. What shocked me the most was my team was the only all female team! This is a big deal for Delta Hacks because the majority of people who participate in hackathons come from a STEM major, which is a male dominated field. My biggest take away from this one was that there needs to be more women participating and represented at hackathons (because we’re awesome and it’s a ton of fun!).
The only all female team at Delta Hacks! (From Left to Right): Judy Shen, Faye Feng, Me, Chenlei Shen.
As a female studying in the Faculty of Arts, attending hackathons was definitely an eye opening experience and it gave me a taste of other disciplines of study without being tested or graded on it (thank goodness!). I feel that you learn a lot more about coding during a hackathon than you ever would in a semester. From my experience at hackathons, I’ve learned many valuable lessons. To build a kick-ass app you need a team with diverse talents, which is why men and women from a variety of disciplines should participate. I’ve also learnt that pitching your idea is a lot harder you think it is. Even people with a lot of coding experience can still learn something new at a hackathon, whether that is a hard skill such as learning a new coding language or a soft skill such as pitching. I love hackathons and I plan to attend more in the future, but one thing I would love to see in the future is more people outside the STEM major attending and of course more of you smart talented ladies!!