Go Girls are Go for Global Hacking Challenge

Hackathon brainstormingThe International Women’s Hackathon is an annual event held on university campuses around the world, empowering women to become leaders in computer science and solve challenges affecting women.

“In my Computing and IT classes, I can see there are very few girls compared to boys. I see women who could have flourished in STEM fields choose other fields. They believe that they somehow do not belong in STEM,” says Nitika Mathur, University of Melbourne coordinator of the Hackathon and current Master of Science (Computer Science) student.

To combat gender stereotypes and expectations, the Hackathon used the theme of women in STEM to guide their programming projects. By developing a website which facilitated mentoring for girls in STEM, one team addressed the lack of role models in STEM disciplines. Other projects tackled youth issues, creating an iPhone game that challenges users’ ability to drive a car while texting. This game raises awareness about the difficulty and danger of using mobile phones while driving.

“I’d definitely call it a success. Participants learn a lot, interact with each other and can build their network. They had a lot of fun and were proud of what they had accomplished over the weekend,” says Nitika.

Despite the computing and information science focus, the Hackathon was also open to students with little programming experience. “Some were apprehensive about the project, but they were still able to contribute a lot to their team. A commerce student later told me that she was glad she decided to participate. If it wasn’t for the focus on women, she would never have participated in a hackathon,” says Nitika.

The success of the Hackathon was also evident in the event’s growth, attracting a greater number of female hackers than last year. In 2013, the event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. This year, the Hackathon grew to include 85 campuses in 13 countries, and an estimated 2000 participants.

In the University of Melbourne division of the Hackathon, Women in ICT Society with the help of IEEE Women in Engineering student affinity group organised the event, with additional sponsorship from the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) and the Department of Computing and Information Systems (CIS).