Coded for Success: Enterprising Students Participate in Hack@Smith

Photo by Marina Cheng '17 | Students work during Hack@Smith, the second annual hackathon hosted by Smithies in CS.  

Veronica Brown '16 Associate Editor

Smithies in CS, a student organization dedicated to computer science, hosted the second annual Hack@Smith hackathon on Feb. 6 and 7. Over 100 people attended the hackathon, doubling the number of attendees from last year.

Smithies in CS explains on the Hack@Smith website that the organization has a “commitment to closing the gender gap in tech.” The organization pledges that over half of all hackathon participants will be women.

It is important to bring diversity in the computer science field, and women are underrepresented in ... computer science,” said Marina Cheng ’17, the president of Smithies in CS. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that less than 26 percent of those employed in computer and mathematical occupations were women.

During Hack@Smith’s 24 hours of coding, teams worked to create a wide range of apps, websites and programs. At the end of the weekend, they entered their creations in a competition. Prizes included tablets, gift cards and Beats headphones.

Hack@Smith put on the event with Major League Hacking, an organization that sponsors student hackathons. The event also had a number of big name sponsors including Microsoft, Google and MasterCard.

The event coordinators brought in mentors such as alumna Jennie Saddler ’13, who works as a software development engineer at Amazon. Saddler helped two students design an app for the recently released Amazon Echo.

Ava Sharma ’17J, Angela Upreti ’16, Bianca Arevalo ’16 and Jessica Innis ’17 created an app for the Microsoft Band, the company’s high-tech fitness watch. It “tell[s] your mood based on your heart rate,” explained Upreti.

Two members of the group were computer science majors, and two had other majors in STEM fields with no previous coding experience. “We wanted a common ground … with biochem and computer science,” said Sharma. The groups already have plans for expanding the project, “maybe connecting that with another factor, like UV light presence,” continued Sharma.

Other students took on creative projects. Lucia Simova ’18 and Kaylynn Kosyka ’19 worked on a site on which users can enter their dreams into an interactive map.

Mariem Ayadi ’16 and Jennifer Zhu ’17 created, a site that matches strangers based on interests and suggests locations to meet. They sought feedback on their site. Ayadi explained, “We’re planning … for Draper [Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs].”

Stacy Robison, president and co-founder of CommunicateHealth, Adam Rosen, COO and co-founder of Door of Clubs and Jackie Fallon, president and founder of FIT staffing, delivered keynote addresses on the first day of the hackathon.

When choosing the speakers, “We wanted to bring in an entrepreneurship aspect of computer science,” explained Cheng. “We also wanted to have a hackathon that promotes the topic of women in tech, and we were fortunate to have two successful women in tech present.”

The event also held workshops on topics including 3D Printing, WordPress and Microsoft API, which is the technology a programmer uses to create apps.

The hackathon brought programming novices and experts together for a productive weekend. Cheng said, “Hack@Smith ... allows students to maybe even try something new in a fun, exciting and supportive environment.”