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#GirlCodeHack: The largest female hackathon

Girl Code held their fifth annual GirlCodeHack, the largest female hackathon in South Africa from the 3-5 August 2018, at the start of the country’s Women’s Month. Girl Code is a social enterprise that aims to empower girls and women through technology and provides training opportunities for girls interested in software development. They envision impacting 10 million women across Africa in 10 years. Girl Code also aims to become the largest female digital academy.

GirlCodeHack hosted more than a 140 girls across three major cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The theme of the hackathon was ‘Technology as an enabler to tackle the United Nations Sustainability Goals' and hence the young women had collaborate intensively to build software and hardware prototypes as solutions to these goals. The hackathon was open to a range of women involved in software development, such as computer programmers, graphic designers, interface designers, business analysts and project managers.

The aim of the hackathon was to raise awareness about fresh female technical talent, whilst affording participants the opportunity to learn, network and develop real world skills necessary for the workplace in an environment which was competitive yet congenial. The event also aimed to encourage young girls to consider pursuing a career in STEM and to attract local companies for further investment in support of women in technology fields as well as serve as a white label event to corporates, which can tailored to develop company specific solutions.

The hackathon was opened in Johannesburg by Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams, the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, who expressed appreciation for events such as these which aim to address gender inequity in STEM as well as foster a strong network to support young women. During her opening keynote, she said that “the aim is to have one million young people, women especially, trained by 2030. You educate a woman, you educate a nation…We celebrate Women’s Month, as we celebrate Mama Sisulu, who was a champion of education. She would have made sure that train young people in the ICT space… We must say ‘We must be able to learn from each other and work together'… We look forward to forging meaningful partnerships with coding initiatives… We will therefore conduct a stakeholder engagement to coordinate these interventions during October, Cybersecurity Month.” Zandile Keebine, the cofounder and chairwoman of Girl Code, was also named as one of the InspiringFiftySA earlier this month, she feels that “the best time to get girls interested in STEM was 20 years ago! The next best time is now!” Keebine says that she is “inspired everyday by the commitment [she sees]  from other women who give up their personal time to create opportunities for other women.”

The participants pushed ahead for 30 hours non-stop programming as they collaboratively designed and created a website, game or mobile app that addressed a real world problem in teams from 2 to 4 members. Much fun was had and most young women were just glad to be in a tech environment which was not overrun by male faces and to be in the company of other young women who shared their interest and enthusiasm for technology; many women found this encouraging and finally felt that they were not alone on this path. There were R350 000 worth of prizes available throughout the hackathon, this included devices, data and tickets to industry events, which meant that most participants were likely to win something throughout the weekend. However, there were three main prizes awarded to the three main winning teams, which were announced on the 9 August, Women’s Day.

The third place prize, Printers sponsored by BoxFusion, was awarded to the team who designed an Android app Self-Educate, from Durban. The app provides girls in townships and rural areas with tutorials on various modules and study materials for school. The second place was given to the ‘Scatterlings of Africa' from Cape Town, who were awarded an Amazon Echo sponsored by Amazon Web Services. They created a web platform where consumers could actively engage in reducing hunger, by buying local produce, donating to food banks, donating organic scraps for compost and volunteering at community kitchens.

The grand prize was awarded to the winning team, the ‘Lightbulbs’ from Johannesburg, a trip to the Women in Tech Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by Cisco as part of its Connect Women program. At the conference the winning team will not gain exposure to the international environment for women in technology but they will also have an opportunity to learn, network and grow their solution. The team also received a Microsoft Technology Associate Certification Course, sponsored by LGIT Smart Solutions. The ‘Lightbulbs’ presented a data accumulation solution which included an integrated device. When inserted, the device assesses the soil in a garden or a farm. The data pertaining to the soil is then shown on a website where the farmer or gardener can access it and then determine the course of action on which to proceed in accordance to the data. After the hackathon, Girl Code relayed that “everyone left with a winning experience. We are extremely proud of all the girls! Go take over the world!!!”

In essence the GirlCodeHack is a event for the ‘Geeky Girl' and embodies the spirit of raising awareness about women in STEM, fostering a competitive yet congenial spirit among females in STEM, building a strong network to support women in STEM and encouraging young girls to enter careers in the STEM field and as such Geeky Girl Reality was more than happy to promote and to cover the GirlCodeHack.

Written by Dhruti Dheda

Dhruti Dheda is a Chemical Engineer with a strong interest in media and communication. She is the editor of the Engineers without Borders South Africa Newsletter and the Community Manager – South Africa and Regional Outreach for Geeky Girl Reality. If you wish to collaborate or network, contact her at dhruti@geekyreality.com or find her on twitter @dhrutidd