Rutgers students gather to compete, learn more about coding


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Photo by jacqueline dorey |

HackHERS was a free event was organized by the organization, Women in Computer Science (WCS), as well as The Douglass Project, to give both men and women create new things with code.


Students from all across Rutgers gathered to participate in a hackathon held at the Cook Student Center.

The hackathon, “HackHERS,” allowed students of all levels of experience to compete, network, mentor and learn with one another for 24 hours straight. The free event was organized by the organization, Women in Computer Science (WCS), as well as The Douglass Project, according to the event’s website.

Hackathons are events where participants develop software projects in a short period of time. HackHERS has an added emphasis on female participants, as the organizers believe there should be more software products with more women involved, according to the event’s website.

HackHERS was open to both women and men, giving them an area to work together to achieve goals and create new things. The competitors, or "hackers," worked to create the best "hack," or software to solve a problem of their choice.

The hackathon had a variety of categories in which participants could win awards. These included "Best Overall Hack," "Best App for Women by Women" and "Silliest Hack."

The event was sponsored by technology companies such as Microsoft, UPS, Verizon, Lockheed Martin, Bloomberg and Colgate-Palmolive. Those companies were available for students to network with during the event, allowing them to look into their potential career paths.

Two of the hackathon organizers were Jasmine Feng, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of WCS, and Poorva Sampat, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

WCS enjoys hackathons and their communities, but wanted to have an event more focused on women, Feng said.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with (experienced people), but we wanted to create the kind of atmosphere and go back down to the beginner level and just have the joy of learning,” she said.

The event included a variety of “Tech Talks,” workshops and bonding events, she said. The talks were presentations by Microsoft, detailing how to incorporate certain software into the students’ hacks, and UPS explaining how to avoid fraud.

Workshops covered topics from the basics of hacking to life after college for students in the technology fields. There were also events created just for fun, such as jigsaw puzzles, cupcake decorating and karaoke.

Some hackathons draw larger crowds with people who mostly want to hack for the prizes, making them less beginner-friendly, Sampat said. The workshops at HackHERS were intentionally more basic so more students could gain a better background and understanding of hacking.

Putting the event together took months of planning and shuffling around, she said. People and positions were changed throughout the planning process to optimize the results of the final event.

The organizers utilized social media heavily to promote HackHERS, mentioning it to other computer science students, the University hackathon club and the Major League Hacking organization, Feng said.

Major League Hacking is a league designed to promote and help plan student hackathons across North America and Europe, according to the group’s website.

They also used computer science groups on social media from other universities, in addition to Rutgers, helping to attract more attention to the event, Sampat said.

HackHERS succeeded in attracting students of all experience levels, as many of the attendees were new to hackathons, including Mikaela Peters, a Rutgers Business School junior.

Peters decided to attend HackHERS after hearing about it on social media and thought it would be a good way to gain programming experience with a friend, she said.

“We decided, ‘Oh, we’re going to go to this event on this day because we like programming, and even though we’re not the most competent, it’s okay because it’s open to all levels,'” she said.

Other motives to attend HackHERS included the importance of technical skills in the business world, where technology is becoming more prominent, said Noelle-Marie Cabrales, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

After speaking to a corporate representative, Cabrales learned that they look for competence in basic computer programs as well as coding. Learning to code would be a competitive edge over other applicants, she said.

Hackathons are important to enable members of the computer science community to come together and bond, as well as allowing those with a basic interest in computer science to further explore what it has to offer, Peters said.

They also enable students to learn from experienced members of the community, picking up different skills and techniques. The ability to code is not a requirement, so it is a great learning experience, Cabrales said.

“You don’t necessarily have to go to a class to learn how to code,” she said. “You can just come to hackathons and pick some basic things, which I find really cool.”

The organizers hope the attendees learn from the hackathon and use that knowledge for the future, Feng said.

“I hope (the attendees) gain a love of learning,” she said. “Just learning and doing things for the sake of knowledge, not for prizes but because it’s fun, enjoyable and creative.”

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Harshel Patel is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. He is the digital editor at The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @harshel_p.


Harshel Patel

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