All-girls hackathon encourages careers in tech

News – February 24, 2017

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All-girls hackathon encourages careers in tech

From left, judges Alice Meyer, a senior Global eCommerce program manager at Symantec, UC Berkeley sophomore Nikki Bayar and Ayesha Khan, president of Foothill WiSTEM, evaluate application pitches at the XXHacks hackathon in Mountain View on Feb. 18. Courtesy of Life Captures Photography/Rikesh Mehta
Anika Bagga, a junior at Cupertino High School, attended several hackathon coding competitions during her high school career. But every time, Bagga noticed that she was one of only a few girls in attendance.

“One of the reasons why many girls are scared to go to hackathons is because they don’t feel accepted or comfortable in that kind of environment, or they feel like they’ll be underestimated because they don’t have the same skills,” Bagga said.

She found a solution in XXHacks 2017, an all girl’s hackathon, on Feb. 18 at the Symantec World Headquarters in Mountain View.

Some girls may be deterred from competing in hackathons because of the hackathon stereotypes that involve long hours and “coding away through the night,” she said.

“That’s why we wanted to create a 12-hour hackathon which would be a smaller-sized event, but it would still kind of give girls the exposure to what hackathons are like and to help them make some positive impact,” Bagga said.

The event was headed by Bagga and planned with four students from nearby high schools Ruoyun Zheng (Monta Vista), Anusha Kuchibhotla and Anushka Narverkar (both of Cupertino) and Celeste Tran (Los Altos) in partnership with the Stanford organization Girls Teaching Girls to Code.

“I really wanted to create an all-girls hackathon which would be a safe and inviting space for any girl to come in and learn technology and not be afraid or not be underestimated for her skills,” Bagga said.

Ninety-seven girls attended the event with the goal of creating a mobile application or website to advance women’s rights or advance social and civil rights.

Nina Vir served as one of the judges for the social and civil impact category. Vir founded her own company, Daily Dress Me, when she was in high school.

“I was really interested in attending this event and giving back because most of the attendees were me about five years ago,” Vir said. “When I walked into that room full of girls that were 15, 16 years old, all coding away, it was really quite amazing.”

Vir said an app that helped people find local protests and an app that educated people about their constitutional rights really stood out.

One of the winning applications allowed users to review and rate local bars and clubs based on how the employees and customers treat minorities.

“I was very, very impressed by the quality of the presentations,” Vir said. “This is definitely a very impressive bunch altogether.”

Contest winners earned prizes sponsored by Kate Spade, and Microsoft sponsored the runner-up prizes.

Bagga invited a panel of women in tech as speakers and judges and said organizing the event took three months of hard work.

A post-hackathon survey indicated that 96 percent of attendees want to attend a similar event in the future and 85 percent felt that XXHacks positively affected their opinion about computer science.

“We know this is a male dominant industry, but I think this event is clear evidence that girls are still interested and they are encouraged to pursue a career in technology,” Vir said.

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