By Karla Casique
Students at the University of Maryland are razing stereotypes and obstacles for women in technology fields with the all-women hackathon, Technica, on Nov. 5.
The large-scale event which was created last year, featured workshops ranging from data science to the fundamentals of product design throughout the day.
In order to break down any barrier people might have coming to the hackathon, the Technica team made it completely free, open to all genders (binary and non-binary), provided buses and posted notes for those that were unable to participate in the event.
“It’s so hard to get the word out because we are not a typical hackathon or event in general, it’s really important to educate people on what we are trying to solve and what we are trying to accomplish,” said Amritha Jayanti, a junior computer science major who is the founder and co-director of Tecnica.
The word has definitely gotten out since 75 colleges and universities from all over the country, such as New York University, attended. A bus is even went to Waterloo, Canada.
Tecnica surpassed its goal by being named the largest all-women hackathon in the world with over 825 hackers. At least 275 hackers were under the age of 18 and 50 percent of participants were not STEM majors.
The main goal of Technica is diversity and inclusivity, as well as encouraging gender diversification in career fields that are male dominated.
“We want to provide a safe space for people to explore and not feel like a minority or not feel like they shouldn’t ask questions,” Jayanti said, expressing that when she was a freshman, she was mocked for asking questions that seemed obvious to others.
Women occupy almost half of jobs in the U.S. economy, but hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, according to the 2011 “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” executive summary.
Microsoft Research reported that by the year 2018, 1.4 million open technology jobs will exist in the U.S. and only 29 percent of applicants will be women.
“It’s a whole world of technology, and it’s an entire bubble of white males dominating every single aspect of it–like blogs, everything is run by male voices,” said Rose Garay, the co-event details organizer.
The junior computer science major then added, “I was anxious over the fact that I had to learn so much and there was no one that looked like me, there was no actual minorities in the community.”
In 2013, The National Science Foundation reported that minority women comprise of fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers.
Since the feeling of being ignored or silenced is prominent on all levels of the education system, the Technica team opened it to high schoolers around the area, as well.
“When I heard that Technica was free and on campus and it’s like an opportunity for me to gain basic skills about web design and coding, I got so excited,” said Autumn Thompson, a junior American studies major and global poverty minor.
“I didn’t want to waste a thousand dollars on a course on campus that I would probably fail at,” she continued. “Seeing this type of event for women is really awesome. It changes the norms for the future.”
Also, it doesn’t matter if one doesn’t have prior knowledge of computer science.
“We have had a lot of great volunteers that came to the event that may not have technical experience but have said ‘I also had this experience’ in their career fields,” said co-director Amber Mirza, a senior computer science major.
For an event this scale, it requires a lot of financial aid. Technica received support and resources from this university’s A. James Clark School of Engineering and the college of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Sciences.
“It’s good that the conversation has started, but I also think people have realized that just talking about it isn’t enough; that action needs to be put in place. The [Computer Science] department has 20 percent women,” Jayanti said.
In order to introduce Technica to the campus and surrounding communities, the team held other events prior to the hackathon, starting on Oct. 31. They were about how technology can influence biology, policy, social entrepreneurship, business and web design.
In terms of how Technica will expand from a 24-hour hackathon, the team is optimistic.
“A lot of resources provided they can use throughout the year, such as mentorship. These events are great to get that conversation started,” Jayanti said.
When asked what they would say to their young selves, Garay wanted to tell young Latinas not to “be scared. Throw yourself into it and know that there are people that care about you. It kind of sucks that we have to find these resources for ourselves but just know that they do exist at this university.”
“You are adding value by not looking like everyone else,” Jayanti said.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Technica co-director Amrita Jayanti.
Karla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.