Women compete in first ‘Code Ada Hackathon’

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By Karan Abrol, Staff Writer

Five all-women teams competed in the University’s first “Code Ada Hackathon” on Saturday, and were given eight hours to build anything they wanted using standard computer science tools, like python, java or C.

Fifty people signed up for the Hackathon beforehand, 18 attended the event.

The title of the hackathon, Code Ada, is a reference to Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician credited as the first ever computer programmer, and the first to recognize the potential of a computing machine.

Varsha Subrahmanyam, junior in LAS, said Women in Computer Science wanted the event’s name to be representative of female empowerment, and that Ada Lovelace is often looked up to as an empowering symbol for women in the technology industry.

“This is tied to (WCS)’s tech team,” Subrahmanyam said. “We initially wanted to do this just to get some collaboration going within the team … but we decided to expand it to all years, as long as the participant is a woman.”

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    The hackathon was held at the Siebel Center, and featured Amazon Echo Dots as prizes. The participants were judged based on creativity, skill level, design and workmanship.

    Pooja Kankani, Rati Rastogi and Devanshi Pratap, sophomores in Engineering, built an app called “(wo)ment2be”, a tool for high school girls in STEM.

    The app looks through the skill-set of each user and matches them with an accomplished mentor in the area, to guide the user and give her advice for a future in Computer Science.

    Kankani said that they wanted to focus on the Urbana-Champaign region.

    “We wanted to find an interesting way to connect high school kids to college students here,” she said.

    Kankani, Rastogi and Pratap won the first prize for their app.

    The judges included Associate Professor of Computer Science Geoffrey Challen, Shannon Strum, president of WCS and senior in Engineering, and Purajit Malalur, 2016 graduate from the College of Engineering.

    Malalur said there is a big culture problem in CS, because the CS industry is very male driven.

    Kavya Varghese, junior in Engineering and vice president of WCS, said they wanted the Hackathon to be an encouraging environment for students to build a product they could be proud of, regardless of prior programming experience.

    “Tech team is something WCS does to help build technical skills in women students,” Varghese said. “This is a chance for people to apply the knowledge they learned in class.”

    Subrahmanyam also said there are lots of barriers to women in Computer Science, since the industry is dominated by males.

    “There’s a lot of condescension, just in speech,” she said. “There are quite a few women I know who have just recently entered the workforce have received condescending comments from people, like ‘Do you actually know what this is’ or ‘Ha-ha, it’s funny that you are saying this’… it’s kind of gross in that respect.”

    Subrahmanyam said events like the Hackathon are important to show everyone that women can create sustainable and useful products.

    Ria Nair, junior in Engineering, said that another important barrier women face is imposter syndrome, in which women don’t internalize their accomplishments and skills for fear of not belonging.

    “I feel like a lot of women who go into CS feel like they don’t belong there,” she said. “A lot of people brag about their skills in CS and women don’t usually do that, which makes them feel like they don’t belong, even though they do have the qualifications.”

    Varghese also said that imposter syndrome is prevalent in computer science because women are a minority in the field.

    “When you’re working with people who are different from you, that can contribute … the combination of imposter syndrome and lack of representation for women contribute to their difficulty in the industry,” she said.

    Subrahmanyam has also seen implicit gender bias and condescending behavior within the University and from her own personal experience.

    “I know that in CS 225, people reject help from female Teaching Assistants in favor of males,” she said. “I think I’ve received a fair share of guys thinking that they can help me with my homework, which is really irritating, I can take care of my own homework.”

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