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Girl Meets Coding: Hackathons as Told by a Girl in the Faulty of Arts


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!!

University of Waterloo Honours French and Business 2019, Her Campus Waterloo Campus Correspondent, Social Media Guru, Tech enthusiast.  Fluent in emoji, HTML and CSS. Avid reader of Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, Mashable & Tech Crunch. Follow on twitter @jena_tweets  
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