The line outside The Hotel at the University of Maryland buzzed with chatter and enthusiasm on Saturday morning as people awaited the start of the annual Technica hackathon.
Technica is the world’s largest hackathon, a weekend-long hacking competition made specifically for underrepresented genders in the tech industry.
The event included keynote presentations by Ashley Huynh, an open-source engineer at Slack, and Emma Mitchell, the founder of an international mentoring program called InspireHER STEM.
During her opening speech, Huynh called for more diversity in the tech industry. She said community and collectivism were the answer to help diversify the field and inspire innovation among underrepresented groups of people.
“While communities are extremely valuable for support and learning, they are most effective when they are diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces,” said Huynh. “That doesn’t just mean having a headcount, but also making sure that every person feels like they’re being treated fairly and that they’re empowered to continue contributing to the community.”
After the opening ceremony, hackers broke off into small groups to begin their projects.
This year’s theme was “Create Your Reality,” a message that aimed to inspire hackers to forge their own paths in hacking and coding.
Junior computer science major and Technica outreach director Mary Redpath said Technica’s hackathon is designed so people of diverse backgrounds and experiences can participate in the event, including those who may not have previously thought about getting involved in the tech industry.
Technica was founded in 2015, with the mission of promoting inclusivity in the tech industry. Redpath said its primary goals were to “provide opportunities and a safe space that doesn’t seem intimidating.”
The hackathon presented an opportunity for hackers to practice coding skills, as well as a chance to network with Technica’s sponsors.
University of Maryland alum Veena Aruldhas, who graduated with an information science degree in May 2022, returned to Technica last weekend to network with the sponsors and meet women in tech. They said they attended Technica in a previous year and loved it.
“I know that the tech industry is very male-dominated and very non-minority dominated as well, and you don’t see people like us being the patent center of tech every single day,” Aruldhas said. “I just love being in the space once again and it feels great. It also kind of reassures me and my identity in tech.”
Technica’s community director and senior information science major Eesha Kaul started participating in Technica when she was still a senior in high school. She said her interest in event planning led her to get involved with the hackathon as an organizer when she arrived at this university.
Kaul said she didn’t have many opportunities to find her own community due to the lack of diversity in the tech world, but organizing for Technica has helped her celebrate those in STEM with similar identities.
Technica also helped her find opportunities she would have never thought of herself, she said.
“I’m so grateful that I’ve had this experience throughout all those important times,” Kaul said.