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Women in Computing organizes CSULB’s first women-centric hackathon, open to all

In 2019, a women-centric hackathon at Long Beach State was just an idea, thought of by the board members of the then newly created organization Women in Computing.

But in the past year, a dedicated team made up of advisers, members of Women in Computing and students from the Department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science invested their time to create MarinaHacks, CSULB’s first-ever women-centric hackathon.

MarinaHacks is a virtual 12-hour hackathon, or a competition for people to design and build products based around a goal.

It aptly takes place on March 27 during Women’s History Month, showing what women are capable of when they are empowered.

According to Han Pham, secretary of Women in Computing, it has provided opportunities for the students of the MarinaHacks committees who have volunteered their time designing, sending emails and getting involved in web development for the hackathon. Pham said that for most of these women, they’ve never been in an environment that allowed them to be responsible for tasks like these at such a large level.

Han Pham, secretary of Women in Computing and a second-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.
Han Pham, secretary of Women in Computing and a second-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.

The hackathon was also supported by the leadership of professor and Women in Computing adviser Jelena Trajkovic and the College of Engineering’s academic adviser Tu Ngo.

MarinaHacks focuses on promoting collaboration and inclusivity and creating an environment that both highlights women, but invites men to participate as well, according to Samantha Perez, treasurer of Women in Computing.

And regardless of what you identify as, Githel Sucio said, co-president of Women in Computing, anyone can empower women in the field.

MarinaHacks originated as a counterpart to BeachHacks, CSULB’s annual hackathon, according to Sucio, who is a second-year computer science major.

But according to Pham, hackathons can also be intimidating.

She and Sucio both had a “dreadful” first experience with a hackathon, their work and decisions were often questioned by more experienced participants from prominent schools in “condescending” manners.

It doesn’t help that all too often hackathons have less women competing, a result of the male-dominated field of computer science. While students in STEM like Pham may be used to the disproportionate numbers of women to men in the classroom, she said that her concern that she’ll be the only woman in these environments can still be a deterrent to her and classmates she’s talked to.

“I know there’s a lot of other girls who want to be competitive too but nothing, to me, compares to the environment when you’re working with other women,” Pham, a second-year computer science major, said. “It just makes me feel so much more safe and I just put myself out there.”

It was all the more reason to have MarinaHacks, which will not only be a space for women, but be a space for all beginners.

Likewise, Sucio said plenty of people outside of computer science and engineering do hackathons simply because they have a knack for building projects on the web.

“MarinaHacks, it’s totally focused on just being completely open and we market it a lot that it’s beginner friendly, because we just really want to focus [that] you do not need tons of experience to start getting more experience, you need to start somewhere,” Sucio said.

Githel Sucio, co-president of Women in Computing and a second-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.
Githel Sucio, co-president of Women in Computing and a second-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.

That openness, for Pham, also contributes to the importance of inclusivity.

She said participating in female-centric activities and organizations has allowed her to pursue STEM. Seeing other women in the field, Pham said, made her feel like she was safe enough to try it.

But the virtual hackathon is also an extension of sporting school pride, according to Pham.

The name Marina is a reference to the word marine, playing into the ocean theme CSULB has adopted, evident with the phrase “Go Beach,” the infamous school mascot and the nearby waterfront.

The hackathon also represents that state schools with computer science departments can be equally impressive to that of any other university.

“I really hope this provides Long Beach another edge to other schools like, we also have hackathons, we also have all these resources and we’re a state school and this is what we’re capable of,” Pham said.

MarinaHack’s categories include sustainability, social justice, connecting, mental health and utilizing Google Cloud. It is open to only California residents due to the fact that the hackathon has prizes for participants.

It’s been carefully structured by its organizers, featuring a morning session before the hackathon begins so that attendees who have yet to join a team can be introduced to others participating in the competition. MarinaHacks will also have a keynote speaker from Hulu and host both professional workshops and more casual times for participants to socialize during the event.

According to Perez, the team at MarinaHacks has partnered with different companies who are offering attendees resources including free courses for interview prep to receiving Nord VPN passes, the company a sponsor of the hackathon as well Aerospace and Google Cloud.

Samantha Perez, treasurer of Women in Computing and third-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.
Samantha Perez, treasurer of Women in Computing and third-year computer science major. Photo courtesy of Han Pham.

“And the cool thing about this as well is that a lot of these companies want to continue collaborating with Women in Computing in the future so I’m like wow, so many great opportunities have already arisen from this one event,” Perez, a third-year computer science major, said.

March 25 will be the last day for people to register for MarinaHacks. Currently, over 50 people have registered for the event.

“I feel like this wouldn’t have been possible without Women in Computing,” Perez said, explaining that MarinaHacks was a big step for the small club. “We’re just letting people know that we’re here for them and that this is not just one event, we have so many other events and so many more great things to come within the club itself.”

Visit MarinaHack’s website to register or learn more about the hackathon.

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  1. Pingback: Building generations of success: How the College of Engineering is supporting women with 100+ Women Strong - Daily Forty-Niner

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