Innovation and Inclusion: Technica's Impact on Underrepresented Genders in Tech

Since its launch in 2015, the student-led event for coding and computing enthusiasts quickly distinguished itself from typical hackathons.
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The Hotel at the University of Maryland, conveniently located across Baltimore Ave. from the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering, transformed into a dynamic hub of innovation and creativity on October 21 and 22, 2023, hosting the 9th annual Technica hackathon. This event, which is the world's largest hackathon for underrepresented genders, brought together tech enthusiasts from across the globe to celebrate and showcase their talents.

Since Technica’s inception in 2015 as a free, student-run event for anyone interested in coding and computing—even those without prior experience—it swiftly became more than another hackathon. Each year, it serves as a platform for underrepresented genders in the tech community to emphasize collaboration, creativity and skill enhancement.  

With 800 in-person and 100 virtual attendees and the support of 29 sponsors this year, the event showcased new technologies and fostered an inclusive environment where innovative ideas took center stage.

The event started with an inspiring keynote speech by Ashley Huynh, an open-source engineer at Slack, who emphasized the importance of community and unity in tech. This set the tone for a day filled with 42 engaging workshops covering a wide range of topics, including UI/UX design, augmented reality game development and even a new addition to the event called the ‘exploratory track’ that allowed participants to examine the connections of tech to different fields.

Ashlee Nanze Ashlee Nanze, a co-executive director of Technica, personifies the fundamental principles of collaboration, diversity and empowerment that serve as the beating heart of this remarkable annual gathering. A senior information science major, Nanze's journey with Technica began during her sophomore year, and she has been a passionate advocate for the event ever since.

"It was an amazing experience,” Nanze said.“While greeting those who came and engaging in conversations, my first question was often, 'Where did you come from?' There were participants from around the world who had traveled by various means, including bus and car rides, to attend this event, which brought a smile to my face. Their enthusiasm and dedication to being a part of a global community was truly inspiring.”

Technica focuses on fostering a sense of belonging for those historically marginalized in the tech world.

“As a woman in the tech field, I've often noticed a lack of gender diversity,” Nanze said. “You frequently find yourself in situations with few other women, whether in a classroom or at work. When you meet another woman in tech, there's an unspoken bond, a shared understanding of our unique challenges and opportunities. That is why this event is so vital. Technica provides a platform for women to connect, learn and inspire one another.”

At the event, students embraced the spirit of innovation and walked away with projects and shared experiences that promised a lasting impact. Among them was Ziyi Chen, a junior computer science major at UMD.

 Ziyi Chen (left) “Technica was fun and more immersive than I anticipated,” Chen said. “From hands-on coding sessions to brainstorming workshops, the variety catered to a wide array of tech enthusiasts. Collaborating with my friends and seeing our project evolve in just 24 hours was a rewarding experience.”

As hackathons continue to be powerful catalysts for tech innovation, the push for diversity becomes increasingly critical. Chen advocates for an inclusive future, emphasizing the value every individual brings.

“I hope for more hackathons that cater to underrepresented genders,” Chen said. “Many face challenges in a male-dominated industry and often grapple with imposter syndrome. Technica provides a supportive space, and I can see it becoming even more popular and supported in the future.”

As the event concluded with closing remarks by Emma Mitchell, founder of InspireHER STEM and senior IT systems analyst, there was a sense of achievement and optimism, reflecting Technica's successful endeavor in pushing boundaries and challenging norms.

"Events like Technica are pivotal in reshaping the tech landscape," said Matthias Zwicker, chair of the Department of Computer Science and holder of the Elizabeth Iribe Chair for Innovation and the Phillip H. and Catherine C. Horvitz Professorship. "It's not just about coding or creating projects but about fostering a space where underrepresented genders can thrive, innovate and lead. At the University of Maryland, we're proud to partner with and support such a transformative initiative."

Story by Samuel Malede Zewdu, CS Communications 

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