Inside WCS: Code Ada 2022

Written By: Emma Maxwell and Hela Kasibhotla

Introduction

From October 15th through 16th, Siebel Center for Computer Science was, even more so than usual, populated with hard workers and hackers. CodeAda, the annual hackathon for women and nonbinary participants run by the Explorations Committee of Women in Computer Science, brings together inquisitive and inventive minds for a weekend-long event.

Simply put, Hackathons are social coding events that bring programmers of any skill level, or anyone interested in programming, together to improve upon or build a new program. They can be closed-ended, meaning there is a very specific task that must be done in a certain amount of time — like a set of questions that need to be solved — or they can be open ended, meaning there is general task that must be done and is open to participant interpretation. CodeAda is an example of an open-ended Hackathon!

The Event

At CodeAda, participants are split into teams of 2–5 and given a problem they need to solve. This year, CodeAda’s theme was Innovating Our Future; projects for the hackathon were centered around social good and environmental sustainability. In addition to working tirelessly to create a project around this theme, participants also had the opportunity to network and socialize with corporate representatives and fellow participants. They had the chance to network with representatives from Meta and Crowdstrike, and keynote speaker and University of Illinois professor Heng Ji spoke about finding success in the workplace and overcoming the personal biases that impede you from finding it. The Explorations Committee also hosted a team matching social as well as a tote bag painting social!

This year, the judges’ choice winner was “beLeaf”, a social media app tailored towards gardening created by Sophia Liu, Jennifer Xia, Chelsea He-Chen, and Karen Gao! It included many features, including a place where you can watch your plant’s growth progress in real time through a cartoon depiction, which the judges adored! The participant’s choice winner was “Location Location Location!”, a machine learning platform that would consider location, land area, and weather data to determine what form of renewable energy would work best for individual homeowners created by Emma Chen, Samuel Gerstein, and Sunwoo Baek! Their algorithm predicted energy output for solar, wind, nuclear, and biofuel as possible fossil fuel alternatives. Both winners combined innovation and technical skillset to create amazing new software that truly represented the theme of social good and environmental sustainability.

Impact

As a hackathon for underrepresented gender identities in the tech field, CodeAda strives to create a safe space for participants to explore their interests in computer science and technology. Hela Kasibhotla, one of this year’s participants, highlighted how hackathons can be intimidating or “really inaccessible for beginners, but especially women who are beginners because they feel unskilled and not good enough to compete. This adversely affects those women in the long run though because hackathons are a great way to build practical and technical skills.” She said she appreciated CodeAda carving out a space for gender minorities and providing the opportunity to gain these necessary skills and experiences. Kasibhotla also noted that “no one was judgmental about the type of project you created,” a major cultural difference from other hackathons from her experience. Another anonymous participant noted that CodeAda made them “feel welcome,” which they found to be “such a motivating feeling.”

CodeAda is a hackathon designed to be open for participants of all skill levels; Kasibhotla noted that “it was as it catered to all types of CS students.” The mentors at the event are a major contributor of this aspect of CodeAda. Participant Alice Li noted how helpful the mentors were in guiding the groups’ thinking and priorities, and that they “would’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about a bunch of small things” without their support. Kasibhotla also “really appreciated how much help was available,” and that even over a mere two days “everyone’s project [was] “finishable”” and “problems [were] approachable to fix” given the support provided.

CodeAda’s run for 2022 was one of exciting innovation and growth. It provided a safe space for beginners and experienced programmers alike to consider issues of sustainability from a technologically forward point of view. The Explorations Committee did a wonderful job hosting this event, special shout-out to Exploration co-chairs Grace Zhang and Shreya Deshpande!

While CodeAda for this year has finished, DevAda, WCS’ annual project cycle, is about to get started! Teams get to work on projects of their choice, either starting new or extending their projects from CodeAda, to present at Engineering Open House and the WCS Project Showcase in the spring! Visit our website (http://wcs.illinois.edu/) to find out more.

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