I have told and retold stories describing my hackathon experience so many times to friends and family members that I have perfected every detail -- so much so that it sounds like I am giving a soliloquy from Hamlet rather than casually telling a story. I now know exactly when to pause for dramatic effect (right before I tell my listener about the results being announced) and I know when to pause for subtle chuckles (right after I say how our team won the Hackathon Dance Battle.) However, if I had to sum up my hackathon experience without delivering a monologue-type speech, I would probably accurately capture it in these two sentences.
- It smells way too much like Axe cologne.
These two thoughts might seem extremely bizarre and unrelated but bear with me.
Part 1: It smells way too much like Axe cologne.
Computer science is notoriously labeled as being a male-dominated field. In fact, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology, women hold only 18 percent of all undergraduate computer and information science degrees. It's a pretty disheartening statistic, but as one of the five girls in my AP Computer Science class of 45, I can unfortunately corroborate the fact that female representation in computer science is depressingly lacking.
I was therefore unsurprised (not to mention irritated) at the wave of Axe cologne that greeted me when I first entered the hackathon. After looking around for a couple minutes, I sadly confirmed my suspicions: I was a minority there by a long shot. I remember being so surprised that, for once, the line for the men's bathroom was much longer than the line for the women's. Only after checking the guest list did I realize how bad it was. There were twenty girls at the hackathon. Out of more than three hundred participants.
It doesn't have to be this way, and with the up and coming organizations that aim to close the gender gap in computer science, such as GirlsWhoCode, it probably won't in the future. But it should not be just up to these organizations to encourage girls to try out coding -- a lot of responsibility lies with the girls themselves.
So if you are a girl reading this, I am talking to you. Once you read the second part of this article, you are going to realize what incredible events, experiences, and memories you are missing out on. You are going to realize that after learning even basic forms of coding, you can begin to build, design and create anything you want. This probably sounds extremely exaggerated, and you might not believe me right now. But coding is literally the closest thing you can get to a superpower in our mere mortal world.
And here's why:
Part 2: You feel like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, (insert ambitious, excited, slightly crazy entrepreneur here) for a solid 36 hours.
There is something enticing about the hacker type of lifestyle. It's alluring. It wasn't so much the idea that you could come across a billion dollar idea at 2:00 a.m. (although that is a pretty big incentive). No, it was more the idea that in 24 hours you could make something, build something, design something that could change the world. Of course, this is not always true -- my first hackathon app was an Android app that wakes sleepy train-goers up before reaching their stop. It didn't exactly solve the American obesity problem or help early diagnoses of cancer. But, I still remember, at the end of the night, when the app was finished, my team and I stared at our little Android phone for a solid five minutes, just in awe. We had just made that, from scratch, in less than 15 hours, and it works.
It's a magical feeling that is hard to describe. You feel a sense of pride and confidence combined with an insatiable hunger to make it better. You feel a marvelous sense of accomplishment in your own skills and knowledge. And of course, you feel a very tight, emotional bond with your teammates, because, honestly, it has been a good 22 hours and you haven't gotten sick of them yet. Coding combines the left and right sides of brain because it harnesses your visual/art skills and couples it with your logic/thinking skills. At the end of the hackathon, you don't feel as though you just did a giant research paper, but more like an artist finishing a masterpiece. There is no feeling like it.
At the end of my usual impassioned hackathon speeches, I usually get the same response: "That sounds so cool! I wish I knew how to code like you!"
That's usually where the conversation ends, and the person I'm talking to brings up a new topic. And I think, that'swhere the problem lies. I always hear, "I wish I knew..." rather than "I want to learn NOW." You can wish all you want, but in the end it is up to you to sit down and type in "learn how to code" in Google search. Learn how to design a basic website. Create an app on your phone. Make a video game. After all, the next hackathon is only a couple months away.
I hope to see you there.