The world's biggest female hackathon welcomed students to UMD, from elementary school on up - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 16, 2018 1:30 pm

The world’s biggest female hackathon welcomed students to UMD, from elementary school on up

In 2018, Technica drew about 900 students to the University of Maryland College Park.
Technica gathered students inside Reckford Armory at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Technica gathered students inside Reckford Armory at the University of Maryland in College Park.

(Photo by Maria Volkova)

About 900 students converged on Reckford Armory at the University of Maryland in College Park last weekend to create projects, learn, and network at this year’s 24-hour Technica event.

Technica is the largest women’s hackathon in the world, and this year participants came from all stages of education, including elementary school, middle school, high school and college. The event was defined by the theme “Light the Way.”

“Our theme is a call to action to our participants to really take charge of their own career paths within tech and to light the way for other women who are going to come behind them,” said Kayla Brown, the marketing director of Technica.

Eighteen companies sponsored the event, including Amazon Web Services, Facebook, JP Morgan Chase, Ebay, Trip Advisor, Capital One, Brightspot, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Students had the choice of creating their own project or working on one of the challenges put forth by the sponsors. A sum of $23,492 of prizes was up for grabs for the winners.

Some of the challenges were:

  • Creating the best use of a data set sponsored by Ebay
  • Best financial hack sponsored by Capital One.
  • Best money management hack by FINRA.
  • Best “Light the way” hack, that would help others light the way to the future.

Aara Keuh, a freshman engineering major at the University of Maryland, and her group decided to work on a challenge by JP Morgan Chase.

“We decided to look at the JP Morgan Chase challenge, which speaks specifically to the fact that although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they only hold about a quarter of STEM jobs,” said Keuh. “ They wanted us to create an app or a website that would encourage women to join STEM careers.”

Keuh and her team decided to create an app to connect mentors and mentees.

“We decided that we wanted to create a mentor- mentee app, like a Christian mingle dating site, so that way women in engineering could have real life women to talk to about their experiences and challenges,” said Keuh. “We are trying to figure out a way to match them up geographically, so that we can foster personal connections.”

Michelle Tatara, who is a freshman majoring in computer science at Queens College and her team decided to work on FINRA’s challenge.

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“The project assignment is to make a program that will allow people of our age group to understand basic finance guidelines – like, why it’s important to start saving when you’re young,” said Tatara. “Our project will be a website consisting of quizzes, followed by statistics, followed by financial resources.”

According to Tatara, Technica empowers women in tech.

“I think that everyone has a voice, and you can use your code to showcase your voice,” said Tatara.  “What you choose and what you code shows something about your morals and ethics- that inspires women and empowers them to code for good.”

The hackathon also included numerous workshops, which introduced participants to topics like: hardware, web development, programming, IOS mobile development, and cyber security.

Lalitha Ganesan, a senior client lead recruiter at Amazon Web Services, has attended Technica for the past four years.

“Diversity is a passion of mine, not just because we need more women representation, but because it’s just the right thing to do,” said Ganesan. “Every year this event gets better and better, and what takes me by surprise is that we have participants from middle and elementary school here.”

Ganesan says that the event has grown exponentially from when it first began.

“I’m amazed that they have so many people here; the sponsors have increased in numbers, and the sponsors get better and better,” said Ganesan. “When I first started there weren’t that many participants. “

When asked about what she thought about this year’s theme, Ganesan responded that this event is all about inclusion.

“Light the way is a very interesting theme, I love it, but more than anything else, just look at what’s around you,” said Ganesan. “ Someone asked me the other day whether an all women’s hackathon meant that guys couldn’t attend and that isn’t the case at all. You see a lot of guys here, too, and that’s inclusion. This is a perfect example of the theme – inclusion everywhere, and that’s amazing. “

One of the youngest participants at the event was Zahira Ryan, who is in fifth grade and goes to Middle Paxton Elementary School. While she doesn’t necessarily want to be a programmer, she sees computer science as a hobby in the future.

“Programming will definitely be one of my hobbies,” said Ryan. “I’m more of a singer, I got into honors chorus. I like singing more, but if singing doesn’t work out, this could be my job.”

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