Female and Non-Binary ACES Students Explore, Code, and Create at World's Largest Hackathon

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Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Last weekend, more than 900 coders came together for the world’s largest 24-hour hackathon exclusively for female and non-binary hackers. 

For women and non-binary students in ACES, this was an opportunity to flex their coding skills on their home turf, as the hackathon is annually held at University of MAryland. 

This year, the hackathon took place on November ninth and tenth, with a theme encouraging its attendees to “Go Beyond.” Technica made it this years mission to inspire female and non-binary individuals to transcend societal expectations. 

Thus, throughout the 24 hours that these attendees became immersed in tech culture, not only creating their own unique hacks, but attending educational sessions teaching them practical skills like from making the best use of Google Cloud to building their own apps and scalable design systems. 

Students additionally had the opportunity to attend presentations by this year’s keynote speakers, co-founder and CEO of WayUp Liz Wessel and supermodel and founder of Kode with Klossy Karlie Kloss. The hackathon also featured conference-style panels hosted by women and non-binary leaders within the field speaking about anything from how to navigate the male-heavy tech field, the concept of nonbinary exploitation, and becoming an empowered investor. 

When the students weren’t learning or hacking, they could unwind with nail/body art, hands-on crafts, and even a Spicy Ramen Challenge. 

Ashna Mediratta (‘22) is a computer science major in the ACES Living Learning Program who helped to plan this year’s Technica . 

“Technica was the first hackathon I ever went to, as a senior in high school in 2017, so when I ended up going to UMD for computer science I realized I already had so many fond expectations of Technica in 2018,” she stated. “So part of the reason I applied to be an organizer was because I had such a good experience both years, and imagined that being part of the organizing team would be just as much fun.”

In reminiscing about her past experiences with Technica, Merdiratta realized that she wanted to be a part of this empowerment.

“Technica really does so much for a girl's confidence - the environment is incredibly inclusive, and there is not the aspect of inferiority that you sometimes feel at other hackathons,” she noted, recognizing the impact it had on her own experience. “I don't know if I'd still be in computer science if my first hackathon had been a different one, and that goes to show the kind of impact organizers have on the women and non-binary people that attend.”

This year, Mediratta made her own impact as part of the sponsorship team, contacting recruiters about involvement in this year’s hackathon. And, though being apart of the sponsorship team took commitment that began as early as July 2019, Mediratta never felt stretched too thin. 

“Although it's only it's fifth anniversary, Technica is a well-oiled machine. There's a team for everything - Food, Design, Experience, Event Operations, so many more - and that's what makes this group so able to have so many different aspects planned so thoroughly,” she noted. “Delegation is crucial, but our leaders do a really great job at making sure we utilize the resources we have effectively.” 

After all the preparation, Mediratta was relieved to see her hard work--and the work of her teammates--paid off.  

“The last few months had already been enjoyable in the way that we got to bring the hackathon together and collaborate with what adds up to hundreds of people, but when participants started coming in from all parts of the country I realized the impact of what we created,” she stated. “I spoke to a bunch of different girls about their experiences, and why they came all the way to Maryland from places like California and Boston for Technica, and it's empowering to hear how much Technica brings people together and inspires.” 

Additionally, as part of the behind the scenes crew, Mediratta had the opportunity to see what her teammates were doing to inspire participants, helping them to feel seen and included in the tech field.

“One of our members organized a session for girls and non-binary to come together and talk about their experiences being minorities in the tech field, and by facilitating conversation I think we were able to create that welcoming environment,” she noted. “In addition, we ensure that our opening speakers are people with inspiring stories to share with our participants, because that really does encourage people to create and achieve.”

Stepping out from behind the curtain, ACES students also attended Technica to expand their hacking knowledge and meet students with similar aspirations and interests. 

Genevieve Sampson (‘23) and Sage Leone (‘23), ACES LLP student attended Technica for the first time this year. 

Sampson (above right), a first year computer science major, noted the highlights of her own personal experience. 

“My favorite part was getting to see so many like-minded individuals in the same room working on a project that they are passionate about. The theme this year was go beyond, so it was amazing to see that some groups were able to come up with projects that could actually make a difference in just 24 hours,” she noted. 

Though she was a first-timer, Sampson found Technica as a thrilling opportunity to explore her own interests, bond with her friends, and flex her creative muscle. 

“My group was new to coding so we decided to make a fun personality test using a graphical user interface in Java. We wanted the quiz to be interactive and cause the user to smile upon seeing the results. It was really fun getting to work with my best friends on a topic that we hadn’t learned about in class yet,” she stated. “I think Technica and hackathons in general are the perfect place to finally learn how to do those things that have always sparked your curiosity.”

Leone (left) also a first year computer science major, backed up Sampson’s assertions, noting the personal benefits she gained from participating.  

“I came into Technica with almost no experience and almost no expectations. All I knew was that I wanted to make something so that I could be a part of the wonderful experience that is Technica,” said Leone. “Not only did I have a lot of fun hanging with my friends and working on our project, but being around so many like-minded people innovating and collaborating was an incredibly empowering and unique experience. The whole thing was just really amazing, and I learned tons, even if it meant losing a little sleep on the way.”

Nevertheless, disregarding the exhaustion they felt this year, Leone and Sampson look forward to Technica 2020.

“Though we didn’t stay for the whole time this year,--we went back to the dorm to sleep for a little--we have already talked about staying the whole time next year,” said Sampson. 

To learn more about the hackathon, visit their webpage at https://gotechnica.org/!

Published November 20, 2019