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Hack(H)er 413 gives a voice outside of a male-dominated field

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University of Massachusetts students at Hack(H)er 413 in February 2020

On Feb. 8 through Feb. 9, the University of Massachusetts Amherst hosted the second edition of its annual Hack(H)er 413 event at the Integrative Learning Center. According to the event’s website, Hack(H)er 413 is the “first all-women (cis and trans) and non-binary students’ hackathon in Western Massachusetts.” Around 300 female and non-binary students from all over the U.S. Northeast were in attendance.

What does it all look like behind the scenes?

Hack(H)er takes a long time to plan. Every single detail needs to be ironed out in order to ensure the most amazing experience for attendees. According to Corinne Greene, a sophomore informatics major and head of outreach for Hack(H)er, planning for this year’s event started mere weeks after last year’s ended.

Hack(H)er’s team is built up of 50 volunteers, 10 organization staffers, and sponsors (90 companies signed up, and 6 sent representatives to the event).

“Having a big team is a really important thing, and I think the backbone of this entire event is my team,” said Disha Srivastava, a sophomore at UMass and director of the event.

Srivastava and her team hold weekly meetings to plan and decide details surrounding the event. Securing sponsorship, for example, was a particularly challenging task the team had to overcome.

“We had all these cool things that we wanted to do. We had until October and all we had was $10,000, and we wanted to host like 500 people in the Integrative Learning Center. So, I went kind of crazy on sponsorship, and that was the busiest month we had last year. We were literally DM-ing people on Twitter,” Srivastava said.

The team didn’t let the odds and time constraints work against them. Instead, they hustled even harder and surpassed every expectation.

“From the start of November to the end of November we raised $30,000, and we hit over our sponsorship budget. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to do this in October, and at the end of November we were like ‘yeah, we can do this!” Srivastava said.

What does the event look like?

Over the course of two days, students attending the event had the chance to participate in a number of workshops, a career fair, mentoring and socializing events, and work on different projects. At the end, students can submit their projects and compete for awards in different categories. A favorite category is the Best Social Good Award.

“I really like it when people use to technology to literally save lives,” Srivastava said.  

Last year’s winning project used Bose’s API system. The project was a system that helped detect if someone was drowsy driving, and blasted music in full volume to make sure that the driver stayed awake until they reached their destination. 

Besides working on projects and attending workshops, students attend career fairs and meet-up workshops such as Coffee with Mentors, where they get to discuss careers and life after graduation with representatives from top companies such as Bose and Facebook.

“The most common questions are around the recruiting process,” said Neha Shah, UMass Amherst alumna and representative for Facebook—who was sponsoring a prize.

Attendees also get to meet new people, share ideas with their peers, and work on new and interesting projects.

“I signed up, and I had no team when I signed up, and I’m just learning from amazing people, we bounce ideas off of each other, and now here we are, working on it as a team, and it’s a really good experience,” Hiba Ahasn, a computer science graduate student, said.

Overall, Hack(H)er 413 is not your average hackathon. It’s a space for women and non-binary students to find a space in what is a traditionally male-dominated field.

“It’s really weird walking into a room and being the only woman there. It just makes you feel very singled out, and it’s always there in your mind, and I think it really helps to have an environment—even it’s for the 40 hours that we have here; to be surrounded completely by women and see what that’s like,” Greene said.

“I think it really gives a voice outside of the normal male-dominated field that we’re in,” she continued.


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