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.
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 deeplearning.ai 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.