(Image courtesy of Vivian Wang)
Valencia High School

Bytes of Tech: Attending my first 48-hour hackathon at TechTogether — an all-girls hackathon competition

Bytes of Tech is a column by Vivian Wang that highlights the role of technology in the lives of Generation Z youths and the ways that youths can bridge the gender gap in STEM. In this week’s article, Wang reflects on her experience at a weekend-long hackathon and what she learned after working in a team.

Only at a hackathon do you have a discussion about how mushrooms become clothing with a little bit of coding magic and 3D printing. Eco-friendly and innovative — all in one beautiful invention.

My first 48-hour hackathon experience was last week when I joined TechTogether’s HobbyHacks hackathon, a hackathon for gender-marginalized individuals to build a “hack” with a team of six people that showcase the participant’s hobbies.

As a new face in the world of STEM, I entered the hackathon with the mindset that I’d soak up every opportunity to learn and network with the mentors and sponsors from Microsoft and the organization “BUILT BY GIRLS.”

Throughout the hackathon, I met new friends, many of whom are in college and have participated in several hackathons already. Although it was initially intimidating to collaborate with a community of primarily college students, I embraced this opportunity as a chance to meet new friends and colleagues, some of which were on my hackathon team. We instantly diverged to talking about why hackathons are called hackathons if we aren’t actually hacking then about our future plans for competing in more hackathons together.

During TechTogether, I worked with my team of four other young women to build our web app, “Schedu,” an intuitive application for users to journal their ideas and schedule their day-to-day events. Although I expanded my technical skills such as my HTML, CSS and JavaScript background during this hackathon, the main highlight of this hackathon was reflecting on my personal growth.

Each night, I journal in my gratitude journal to reflect on the little moments of my life that I am thankful for. After this hackathon, I wrote about my main takeaways and learning moments from HobbyHacks:

  1. Everyone’s a team player. Although not everyone on my team was simultaneously coding, we all kept each other company with funny computer science memes or interesting life stories. It’s important for me to recognize the efforts of everyone on my team, even if I don’t see direct products immediately. The tangible and intangible results are both equally important in any team project.
  2. I’m thankful that I have mentors who share opportunities with me. Diving in headfirst into any new concept or experience can be scary, but I’m glad that I met lifelong colleagues and mentors who have shared their crazy life experiences and can all attest that computer science is definitely a love-hate relationship. Although all of my mentors in STEM are all extremely busy with back-to-back meetings, they are all genuinely passionate about mentoring passionate, self-driven youths. In the near future, I would also love to mentor young women and share my experiences of my journey as a female in STEM.
  3. We’re forever a work in progress. I did not know how to code everything during the hackathon and so Google became my best friend over the weekend. I’m always so eager to learn all there is to computer science in one sitting at night, but it’s also important to me to enjoy time to myself to write, bake, and spend time with family. Being a lifelong learner as a STEMinist will take you a long way.

Looking towards the future, I am excited to explore the opportunities as a woman in STEM. Whether it be my aspirations for becoming a mentor for young girls who are also interested in STEM or my dreams of becoming the next Steve Jobs, I know that instant transformation does not happen overnight, but small steps of growth do happen as I’m learning and growing each day.