Superposition V was held April 9-11, 2021.

Superposition V: My first hackathon

This past weekend, I attended my first hackathon, Superposition V, the largest all-female hackathon in the Bay Area. Because of Covid-19, it was held through Zoom but that did not stop it from being a life-changing experience for me. Everything was well organized from the workshop Zoom links to the Slack server for attendees to communicate with organizers and I was super impressed by how smoothly the entire event ran. Holding it through Zoom even turned out to be beneficial because people from all over the world could join. I had an exciting first hackathon experience with all the informative workshops and fellow girls interested in tech. This event deepened my passion in computer science and encouraged me to explore it further. Here is a detailed summary of my experience at Superposition V:

I first heard of Superposition through my high school’s WiSTEM (women in STEM) club and I was immediately intrigued by the idea of joining a larger community and putting my coding skills to use by creating a project with other girls. In my mind, hackathons seemed intimidating because of the competition and my fear that I wasn’t skilled enough compared to others. But I put that fear aside and decided that this would be a good introduction to the hackathon world because I would feel more comfortable working with only girls. So I clicked on the link and signed up. A little later, I went back to their website and found their ambassador program. I had never been an ambassador before and applied because I wanted to get more involved with Superposition and maybe  join their core team that organizes the whole hackathon in the future. I was accepted as a fellowship ambassador and proudly put it as my first position on my LinkedIn. The ambassadorship started off a little stressful because of my lack of experience advertising through Discord and Slack servers as well as my reluctance to contact my friends about Superposition thinking that they would never be interested or are too busy. But I quickly got the hang of it and had my computer science teachers post it on their Canvas pages for my classmates to sign up. I didn’t get many sign ups but I was introduced to the world of advertising and marketing through social media for the first time which I found valuable.

Fast forward to the day of the hackathon, Friday April 9th. I was extremely nervous because of my lack of experience in coding large projects and the fact that I had forgotten a lot of syntax from all the coding languages I’ve learned (except for Java which I’m currently learning). I registered for the hackathon on Devpost and began my search for teammates. It was pretty simple reaching out to others through Devpost as I could see if their skills and interests aligned with mine. I got responses from my contacts but didn’t end up teaming with any of them as I had already formed a team of 4 from the Slack server and the team formation event. No one in my group had participated in a hackathon before so I was not afraid that I would be the least experienced out of everyone. In fact, I had the most coding experience in our group. One other girl also had experience in HTML, CSS, and Javascript but the other two were beginner coders. We started out hopping on a call and brainstorming ideas for what we wanted to make. We decided it was best for us to code a website with HTML, CSS, and Javascript using VS Code and collaborating through Github because we all had at least a little experience with web development. I personally only created a website in 8th grade to display my coding projects so I only learned how to create text and links in HTML but I was willing to learn more HTML for the project. I had the most experience with VS Code and Github out of the girls in my group so I introduced them to how to create files and commit and push/pull repositories. To be honest, I had no idea so I was just figuring it out along the way.

After deciding our desired project types we began brainstorming ideas for what exactly we wanted to put on our website. Superposition gave us four themes: Women Empowerment, EdTech, Environment, and Inclusivity so we came up with ideas for each and narrowed them down to environment. Along the way, we wrote down everything that came to mind in a Google document and crossed out the ideas that were undoable or not special enough. We finally settled on a website for sustainable recipes (vegan and vegetarian). The two girls on our team that did not know how to code designed pages of the website with Canva and the logo. We also named our website “V Kitchen”. In the meantime, the other team member and I started coding the website; she started the home page while I worked on the profile page. I had to get re-accustomed to working with VS Code and I had to basically relearn HTML. I did this by googling anything I didn’t know and watching a few videos on HTML including an hour-long crash course. I figured out how to create a menu to navigate to different parts of the profile page: the actual profile, saved recipes, and created recipes. The next step was coding the ability for users to create personal accounts. Superposition had several mentors on stand-by to help with anything so I went to their zoom help desk to get help. One of the mentors introduced me to Firebase, a Google-developed platform for websites and mobile apps. He helped me set up a database for users and a sign up/log in pop-up on our website. We also used Firebase’s Firestore to set up storing recipes on our website. I had never heard about Firebase before and when telling my dad about it, he said that he uses it as a professional software engineer and I felt proud for learning about an industry-standard platform and being able to use it. However, I had a difficult time figuring out how to redirect the user to another page after logging in and I wanted to figure it out without any help so I spent hours searching Google for an answer and asking my teammates for help. When I finally resolved the issue, I immediately texted our Slack chat and everyone was so excited about our working log in function. This was one of the best moments in our website creation process for me as my work had finally given me a satisfying result.

Then it was time to connect the profile pages to the home screen. I worked with my teammate who created the home page to try to find a way to create a navigation bar at the top of each page without having to copy and paste everything so we searched Google for answers but the solutions were found to be unsuccessful. So again, we asked the mentors and they told us to just copy and paste our navigation bar everywhere so we did. It was a bit more work having to make each one match up but it was easier than trying to find another solution which we did not have time for. Our last order of business was having the recipes we inputted into Firebase to show up as their own recipe pages so users could click into them. I found a solution on Stack Overflow and tested it out but it didn’t work. One of the design members tried to help me out but the solution she found only created buttons and displayed the description of each recipe. With it being 3:00 am for me and all my efforts being futile, I decided to call it quits while two of my teammates continued to polish our website so it would at least look good even though the recipes didn’t actually show up. They also created the pitch to present our product to the judges. We ended up turning in our unfinished product which you can find on Github.

In addition to creating an entire project from scratch, I also attended several of their 20+ workshops on computer science, entering the tech industry, and college advice including Intro to Python, Intro to AI, Intro to Cloud Computing, Cracking the Common App, and a few others. I took notes for the ones I attended which I might post later. The workshops were all by women working in the tech industry and they were all well done. My favorite workshop was Intro to AI by Dr. Lorien Pratt. She introduced AI differently from what I had learned from past classes which only taught me about the conceptual part of AI, not the application. Dr. Pratt described using AI as “driving a car without knowing what’s under the hood” to teach us that AI practitioners need not know how every part of AI works, just how to apply it because that is what the world needs. Before, I was reluctant to start using AI because I did not know enough about how everything worked but I realized that I shouldn’t be holding myself back and I have to start somewhere. There are so many resources and databases for learning how to use AI which was overwhelming to me. I had no clue where to start. But after some thought, I’ve decided to begin learning AI online through Kaggle’s tutorials and the specialization on Coursera. I’ve also applied and been accepted to InspiritAI, a program taught by Stanford and MIT students to help introduce high school students to AI and work on a project together. I will be attending their Live Online course in the summer. These workshops were not only a learning experience, they also opened a door for me to explore my passions without hesitation because I heard about the experiences of others which relieved my fears. And the fact that these people were all women was very empowering to me as the tech industry is so male-dominated which was one of the causes of my hesitation to begin my tech journey.

Despite not being able to complete everything we planned for our project, I had no regrets as this was the first hackathon for my whole team and I learned so much about HTML, CSS, Javascript, Github, and Firebase. I was completely satisfied and this experience has given me the motivation and encouragement I need to go more into depth with a project of my own. I talked to my dad and I plan on learning how to use Flutter, an open-source UI software development kit created by Google, to code my own app in preparation for my next hackathon, Los Altos Hacks V. I’m thrilled to expand my coding abilities and meet even more people in STEM through more hackathons. If you are interested in technology and entrepreneurship, I definitely recommend entering hackathons. Even if you have no experience, it is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to the tech world and meet others with more experience so you can improve your coding, collaboration, and pitching skills. Not only do you gain valuable tech industry experience, you also learn how to network with others through LinkedIn and blind emailing so you can be exposed to more opportunities and even potentially get an internship or a job. As a high school student, I am not yet interested in either of these but I have the necessary knowledge that will help me when I do start looking for internships or jobs. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others whether it be asking to team up on a project or asking for a job. I hope reading about my hackathon experience will help you decide whether joining a hackathon is the right thing for you. If so, you can find many hackathons on Devpost to enter for free.

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