Schools

MVHacks 2.0 works to increase diversity in coding


Marc Bacvanski/Special to the Town Crier
A mentor works with students at MVHacks 2.0, a high-school hackathon organized by students. This year’s event, which aimed to increase gender diversity, recruited 30 nonmale participants.

Ten months of planning, organizing and soliciting sponsors culminated March 30 at MVHacks 2.0, a high-school hackathon I helped put together. The event took place at the Cisco Systems campus in Milpitas, where 102 hackers created 35 projects.

A hackathon is a daylong computer science competition that, despite the name, focuses on creating software rather than hacking computers.

A goal the organizing team had following MVHacks 1.0 last year was more gender diversity. The first MVHacks was 90 percent guys, and most hackathons tend to be male dominated.

We tried to change this by targeting females in our advertising for the event. Our efforts came to fruition: 30 of the 102 participants identified as a gender other than male, and the winning team was all-female.

While there is still a long way to go in terms of creating a gender balance, this is a great improvement over the first MVHacks and several other hackathons.

This year we also wanted to encourage more newcomers to computer science to sign up. Hackathons – which have become increasingly popular in recent years – are often “beginner-unfriendly.” Compounded by the competitive computer-science hotbed we live in, a student new to coding can feel intimidated by the prospect of competing against those who practically learned the Python programming language before addition.

I felt this way as well. As a freshman last year who spent 10 hours searching online for tutorials on HTML and JavaScript (the coding languages used to create websites), a hackathon seemed light-years away from what was feasible at my skill level.

To help beginners feel welcome last year, organizers put a plan in place that included a mixer for attendees without a team, myriad workshops and coding demos, and mentors dispersed throughout the venue to help teams with their code.

We carried on those practices this year, which also helped make MVHacks 2.0 successful. We exceeded our goal of hosting beginner hackers; 60 percent of attendees had never attended a hackathon.

The judges and organizers chose eight winning teams: first, second and third place; best user interface/user experience; most creative project; organizer’s choice; best beginner hack and the best use of a “.tech” domain. Prizes included drones, underwater cameras and wireless ear buds and totaled $3,000.

First place went to the team that created Woke, a website to “help Americans decide on 2020 presidential candidates to increase voter turnout,” according to the developers.

Other winning apps also tried to solve problems such as plane crashes and the unavailability of blood donors, while others created games.

Thanks to our sponsors such as Cisco, which provided the venue and food (our biggest expenses), we were able to make MVHacks 2.0 free to all participants.

We are now looking forward to next year’s MVHacks 3.0, which we hope will be even more diverse. Our goals include more racial diversity and increasing our nonmale participation up to 50 percent.

For more information on MVHacks, visit mv-hacks.com.

Akhand Dugar is a sophomore at Mountain View High School and a Town Crier intern.

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