Paranormal Hacktivity

So…I slept through some crucial hours of my hackathon last weekend. But it’s ok! Much of the motivation for my participation was exploration and learning. Since I maximized that, I felt pretty satisfied with the experience.

First Impressions

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First of all, the event was FREE – so even if all I did was show up and mooch the sponsor resources, it would still have been beyond worth the investment. Second, I met some bootcamp students that were my age (rather than the mean/mode age of participants, which was probably in the late teens – early 20s) and really engaging. Having people to talk with while working made the weekend outright fun. I found myself spending longer on campus than I’d planned and working longer into the night than I’d anticipated. Since I ended up not being able to complete my project, it could have been a discouraging or frustrating experience. But having that shared sentiment with other participants and more or less making friends, I found myself repeatedly saying how excited I was, how much fun I was already having, and how “even if I get zero functionality out of my hack, this has already been worth it.” Programming is inherently enjoyable for me, but having that social aspect in the process raised my attitude to new levels.

Woke Tech

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Fully aware of my inadequacy in comparison with energetic young nerds studying computer science full-time and not multi-tasking with external employment, I skipped past the main category prizes and scrolled through the more amusing and obscure prizes. Not that I was gunning for a medal, but that curiosity ended up stoking my creativity.

Through some back-and-forthing with the history teacher across the hall from me, I settled on a web or mobile app that would help me respond to “Miss, what should my career be?” The project is not live because I spent most of my weekend learning Amazon Web Services tools instead of trying to build it with tools I’d already learned, but the end of the hackathon is definitely not the end of this project for me. As design and development are wont to do, the details have evolved since my initial idea. At this point, my hope for the app is that students and career changers will be able to sign in and save preferences; these preferences will be used to return clusters of major/career suggestions based on compatibility with stated preferences. The tie-in to encouraging women to consider STEM careers is that it would order the suggestions in each cluster by listing careers in which women are underrepresented near the top of women’s suggestions in that cluster, and vice versa for men.

I believe very strongly that gender equity is not just about steering women toward STEM, but also about making it socially acceptable for men to hold traditionally female careers. Rather than relying on gimmicks to draw in more women applicants, I hope to contribute in some small way to an opening of opportunity based on interest rather than outdated social norms. Men can be kindergarten teachers, too. And really, some of the best middle school teachers I’ve known have been men. We talk a lot in academia about the feminization of education and about the harm caused by a dearth of male role models in schools, yet it remains one of the more skewed professions.

Lessons Learned

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I had done some light research on others’ lessons from their first hackathon and noticed that I fell prey to many of the same mistakes they warned against: I tried too complex a hack for the timeframe, I focused more on making it “finished” than just getting it done, and I also did this while needing to keep up with weekend work for grad school and my job!

Regardless of my dev’s performance (or current lack thereof), I learned yet again that you will still benefit from new experiences even if you are afraid you’ll be in over your head. Not only did I learn specific, actionable deficiencies in my skillset, I also discovered some tools that I didn’t know existed but that I was immediately passionate about. Whatever my future holds, I am excited to continue learning and applying new tools as they emerge.


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