Why More Women Should Attend Hackathons

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"Wow, an all-girls team won 1st Place!" exclaimed Pearl, a fellow hackathon attendee, as she came over to congratulate us, "I rarely see an all-girls team at hackathons, much less win one."

We were at the Emirates Travel Hackathon, a two-day event focused on building web and mobile application to explore the world. The formal theme was "Flight Search with Persona" and teams had 24 hours to brainstorm and build a project. Even with a total of 300 hackers in attendance, there was no doubt that a majority of them were men and Pearl’s comment just didn't sit well with me. Hackathons are a great experience, for everyone, but more women should think of attending and here's why:

1. Sharpens Your Public Speaking/Presentation Skills

Studies have shown that women talk less than men in the workplace. Hackathons are a perfect place to change that and speak up. There are a number of opportunities to practice those skills--brainstorming ideas, pitching your project to the judges, or presenting your project on stage.

2. Fosters Teamwork

If you are a full-time software engineer at a company, chances are you are part of a development team. If you want to be a software engineer, what better way to get experience working in a team by spending 48 hours building something from scratch? It's possible to build a good app by yourself, but you need a team to make a great app because it becomes a collective of all the different great ideas.

3. Learn, Learn, Learn

There is a huge movement for women in tech because there should be more diversity in the industry! Hackathons are the perfect environment to learn new technology and build your career. You will meet a variety of people with different sets and levels of skills, but no one knows everything so here's the perfect chance to be a student or a teacher to someone. People who come to hackathons love to talk about tech so don't be shy to admit you don't know something because chances are, you’ll be able to give back as much knowledge to others as you take in yourself.

Plus, there's no better motivator to figure out something than when you have a project with a deadline. And you will learn a ton of information just from that.

4. Network and Have Fun!

I am new to this industry and it always amazes me how many people are willing to mentor me! If you meet someone who knows more than you, just ask them if you can contact them with more questions. The answer will always be no if you don't ask.

I have also met some of the coolest people at hackathons. It's so easy to strike up a conversation while you're getting food or taking stretch breaks so use that time to meet interesting people! You will also just naturally bond with your teammates because you're spending 24 hours staying up and coding, laughing at your mistakes, yelling at the computer, and celebrating your accomplishments together. Make sure to also talk to the sponsors and mentors at the event because they have great insight and have plenty of time to chit-chat.

Again, these are great reasons for anyone to attend, but I want to emphasize the gender imbalance at these events and motivate more women to show up and contribute their ideas!

My team and I had a lot of fun building a web app called Path Finder which reinvents flight search by customizing flight results to a user's personality. The user first answers a series of questions to determine which one of the four types of travel personalities s/he is: traditional, pioneer, venturer, and voyager. With the personality quiz result, we initially feature 3 destinations catered to that travel personality type. The user can then choose to explore more destinations or click on Xola's experiences to view the type of activities available at that destination. In the future, we plan to add machine learning that can take into account age, gender, travel season and other additional information so that we can present even more personalized recommendations. We want Path Finder to become the Netflix of travel! We took home the 1st Place prize, Xola's sponsor prize, and Future Eye Technology's sponsor prize.

I encourage everyone to go out and experience at least one hackathon! Studies, San Francisco's largest tech event series which includes a hackathon, is in early February 2016. Here are some resources to find other events near you:

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