Monday, March 16, 2015

Women’s College Hosting a Hackathon—Closing the Gender G(app): March 28–29

Photo Credit: Smith College

Women’s colleges play a critical role and are highly successful at attracting and graduating women interested in STEM careers that continue on to graduate school or launch a career after commencement. I’ve written several HuffPost blog posts about this connection, as well as referencing this synergistic effect on my blog: Advantages of a Women’s College.

Today I want to blog about an upcoming hackathon, Hack@Smith, which takes place on the Smith College campus March 28 and 29 in Northampton, MA. Designed to promote gender equality in computer science, the idea behind this women-focused event was envisioned by members of the computer science club at Smith College, “Smithies in CS.”

I spoke with Julia Edwards, one of the event’s co-founders, to learn more about the college’s first hackathon. This Smith senior, a Boston Marathon runner, is a computer science major and an economics minor with hands-on-experience at several top-tier tech firms.  Passionate about getting more women into the computer field, Julia established “Smithies in CS” in 2014.

During our conversation Julia said:

Smithies in Computer Science was founded to encourage women to pursue computer science, to diversify the tech industry, and to strengthen our CS community on campus. We decided that throwing a women-focused hackathon would be a perfect way to encompass all of our club's goals in one fun and powerful event. We're bringing 200 students from schools all across the East Coast to Smith’s campus for our 24-hour hackathon in March, and we hope to inspire a lot of women (and men!) to pursue CS degrees and promote gender equality in tech on their own campuses.

The mission of Hack@Smith is to get more women interested in CS and, in particular, hackathons. A hackathon is an event where students of all academic backgrounds—from computer science to art—come together to make cool apps and technology. Hack@Smith is not a competition to build the most complicated technology you possibly can. Hack@Smith is an effort to close the gender gap in tech; everyone will be working together and supporting each other to achieve this common goal.

Students with any interest in tech—from art students who love design to CS majors who love creating web apps—should attend Hack@Smith. Students who have never attended a hackathon should definitely attend; this event was designed to be friendly to students of all CS experience levels, from none (but interested in tech) to seasoned (this is your 100th hackathon). Because students work in teams, they can opt to work with other students of similar coding levels (i.e., to take things at an appropriate pace) or diverse coding levels (i.e., to use Hack@Smith as a learning and social experience). Plus, we’ll have an abundance of mentors at Hack@Smith, so people newer to CS can adopt a mentor for their team to help them overcome any difficult obstacles.

In addition to participating in the hackathon, students also will have the opportunity to meet and network with technical recruiters via companies that are sponsoring the event. So if you’re looking for a summer internship or job, this is an event for you; it is an excellent way to meet a future employer. 

And if you’re a Smith alumnae and/or software engineer, Julia encourages you to join the fun:

Smith College alumnae, whether you're interested in tech; work in tech; are a designer or  a manager, have a talent you would like to share with our attendees; or just think that this event sounds like fun—we would love to host you at Hack@Smith. Technical professionals who want to help students learn how to code should sign up to mentor. From teaching someone to write their first "hello world" program, to teaching them how to use your company's super-cool API, sign up to make an impact on a coder's life.

Computer science events, like Hack@Smith encourage women to consider a career in a STEM field; and this is a very good thing because today’s employers are looking for diversity within its work force. I for one, look forward to seeing more events like Hack@Smith.

Note: Additional details for this hackathon are available on the Hack@Smith Web site. It’s also where students can register. Alumnae and mentors can sign up by emailing Julia directly.

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