In a move to encourage more women to network in the programming field, Andrea Baric, a Drexel University software engineering freshman, put together FemmeHacks, Philadelphia’s first all-women student hackathon, hosted in Drexel’s ExCITE center Feb. 27-28.
It’s no secret that women are sorely underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, specifically in disciplines related to computer science and engineering. Baric counts herself lucky, having grown up in an environment that encouraged her to “geek out” as much as she wanted and acknowledges that not all young women were given the same opportunity.
“I did lots of day programs in middle and high school and started taking classes on computer science in high school as well. It was around that time when I started learning about what tech culture is — that there’s a whole experience that goes beyond just sitting down and learning about a topic.”
Of the many tech events Baric has attended, it was the hackathons that impacted her the most. Not to be mistaken for a literal “hacking” marathon, hackathons are events that focus on many different facets of tech and programming, seeking to engage the attendees through panels, company mingling and the main attraction, collaborative development with other visitors.
“There’s a lot of talk in the computer science community about the importance of building a computer culture for those involved, and I really tried to start bringing that here,” Baric said of her motivation to launch the hackathon, which pulled heavily from her attendance to two in just the past year. “I went to HackPrinceton and scouted the scene, learned how projects are developed, how teams are created, what sponsors do and what their roles are.”
Five months and many emails later, Baric was surprised to hear that all of the tickets offered for the event had been sold out. For a student-created hackathon on its first run, the turnout was staggering. Thirty-six Saturday check-ins were exposed to just over 12 hours of tech-related content, with a bulk of their time dedicated to collaborative work which was then judged for winners.
Sponsors included Exelon, Epic, SIG Susquehana and Zonoff, among others and were encouraged to work the floor and speak to attendees about the work they do. Seven teams ended up with various projects to demo at the 7 p.m. cut-off, with three of the teams receiving prizes. The winning team from the University of Pennsylvania ended with a project called ‘AnOwlysis,’ a natural language processing app that built off IBM Watson’s application programming interface to analyze a sample of writing and deduce the author’s main traits. Coming in second place was Drexel’s Society of Women Engineers team, who created an app to help the organization track completed tasks and assist with scheduling and were commended for the level of technical difficulty the app displayed.
While the high level of interest shown for the meetup was quite the achievement, Baric claimed that it’s not what she was most pleased about. In an exit poll taken by the participants, 100 percent would go to another hackathon, despite this having been the first hackathon for half of the participants. Though Baric may be very proud of the success of FemmeHacks, she’s not taking any more time than necessary to sit back and reflect.
“I want to start planning earlier. I’m looking forward to getting it set up again next year and want to start working on getting an organizing team together,” she said.
Busy though she may be, Baric will admit that she is proud of the success FemmeHacks saw. “I had one girl come up to me after the event ended, a Penn student, who told me that she was always too intimidated to try and go to PennApps, but now was thinking about trying to go this year. And that’s what really matters that they want to keep going to more and getting involved.”
Baric encouraged any and all women (and even men) who want to get involved by either participating or helping to plan next year’s FemmeHacks reach out to her, since in her words, “It’s always a good time to start.”
“Don’t stop. If you don’t get something the first time you see something, don’t worry! The people that surround you will want to help you get better, and being a woman shouldn’t be something you let affect your confidence,” Baric said about her advice for the newbies.