Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

New chicks on the block(chain)

Last weekend, I took part in my first ever hackathon!

The Cryptochicks Blockchain Hackathon + Conference, organized by the Cryptochicks group, is for and by women/female-identifying hackers and those interested in blockchain/cryptocurrency. I, along with over a hundred other ambitious and gritty hackers, worked hard to bring our ideas to life in the beautifully constructed and bright MaRS Discovery District building.

While the hackathon was simmering away, a conference was held downstairs at the same time with industry pioneers and thought leaders in discussion on a variety of topics that I unfortunately didn’t have time to enjoy. Apparently, at one point Vitalik Buterin’s parents were together in the same panel!

The hackathon was unique in that it was sort of a mixture between a normal hackathon and a business case competition; initially the organizers created a business track and developer track because they weren’t entirely sure how many developers would be participating. Luckily and happily, there were a significant number of devs and in the end, there was a good mixture of both biz and dev teams.

I initially joined in the business track, but through some mingling and chatting with fellow hackers, I switched over to the developer track as the business chick on a dev team. #bizchick

Left: Me, getting into that #hackerlife. | Right: TRADE SECRETS!

I enjoyed the process of idea generation, doing market and industry research, and testing the viability and feasibility of our favorite ideas. It felt a bit odd to front load some of that work prior to the hackathon, considering the expectation of these events (hackathons/case competitions in general) is to cram as much work and effort as possible in a short amount of time. However, also considering how new so much of this was to all the members of our team (both the industry and technologies), we appreciated having time beforehand to do research and work with the resources we were given to learn more about blockchain and smart contract development.

One of the most unique features of the hackathon was also its greatest selling point: all female/female identifying hackers.

My heart soared every time I listened in on a nearby team working on incredibly abstract and intellectually challenging concepts, and conquering all kinds of problems. The creativity I saw was astounding, but what made me the proudest to be a hacker in that space was the collaboration. We had some mentors present to help teams out with ironing out business/technical issues, and I was chatting with one who was a seasoned hackathon participant himself. He was pleasantly surprised at how well the teams meshed, and how healthy competition existed in a manner that was positive and constructive for all involved.

Let me tell you, there’s no better feeling than being in a room filled to the brim with talented, intelligent, hard-working and amazing women that run the gamut from business to technology, and everything in between. We were incredibly busy hacking away the whole weekend, but in the small gaps of exhausted breaks sprinkled in between mad dashes of effort, we got to learn more about each other and marvel at the energy and ambition of our fellow hackers.

Plus, I bet you’ve never seen a baby at a hackathon either.

My team was formed prior to the hackathon; Paula and Lauren worked on the backend, while Mariya took on frontend. When it came to developing the MVP I really wasn’t much help at all, but I supported where I could: scrappy searches on Stack Overflow, flagging down mentors to troubleshoot, and setting up our snack station. I felt a bit redundant as the night wore on, and holed myself away briefly to finish our presentation deck.

I rejoined my team at one minute to midnight to celebrate our momentous mark of hacking together, pictured below.

Left: The clock has struck midnight! Still going strong. | Right: How we were really beginning to feel.

I finalized the deck and interrupted my teammates again sometime at 2am, and I felt validated by Lauren as she extolled the virtues of having a dedicated businessperson on the team. (Yay! But it was also possible she was losing her mind at that point. ) Unfortunately there wasn’t much else I could contribute to at that point, so I went home to sleep a few hours, took a quick shower, and came back in the morning. Again, seemingly somewhat unorthodox for a hackathon. Shower? Sleep? What luxury!

Our concept was to utilize the blockchain to make requesting transcripts by students and issuing transcripts by university easier and faster.

I got a friend to record our pitch which I put up on YouTube here: I transcribed it and you can turn on captions.

I never realized that truly the most difficult part was having to present it! I was sanctioned to get a few hours of sleep particularly because I was responsible for a large part of the presentation that required pontificating, but I have to give serious props to my teammates for literally not sleeping a wink, debugging in the wee hours of the morning, and still running through the process flow of the MVP. DAMN.

Watching it again on a screen is pretty cringeworthy, seeing all the cracks show through, but that’s what happens when you’re thrown in the deep end with no sleep. I don’t know how bank analysts or consultants who do this often get anything done productively, but first: kudos. Second: everyone should get more sleep, because it’s necessary.

I didn’t get as many pictures as I wanted and we also missed a bunch of presentations, but the ones we did see were incredible.

You can see the finalists on the website, but I think we all easily came to consensus (heh) about the most impressive project that blew us all away.

Ananya Chadha, a scrappy 16 year old, worked solo on an idea that democratized and created accessibility to genome testing, which she described on stage in an enthusiastic rush to get all her work out in the squeeze of five minutes.

Judges voted for the winners through a blockchain voting system (of course) called Polys, and the results of which were posted up on the screen after.

As you can see, Ananya won by a CLEAN SWEEP OF ALL VOTES! It was so exhilarating not just for her to win, but for all of us in the audience. The moment was electrically charged and so inspiring for all of us attending.

I had an amazing and surreal time at the hackathon. I don’t believe any other experience has come close to this in the sense of empowerment and potential I felt. Other hackers agreed.

Thanks Team Transcrypto for the friendship, the lessons learned, and just being amazing human beings. We were so excited to know that our presentation and idea had stirred up keen interest among our audience and mentors, and we’re mulling it over on how to take it from MVP to reality. We’re still learning and doing, but most of all — we are having fun!

Shout out to all the amazing hackers out there, and to Cryptochicks for providing this visibility for showcasing female talent. Tech is still a male dominated space, and we all have a part to play to make sure that isn’t the case for our daughters and granddaughters. Innovation belongs to all, and from what I’ve seen at this hackathon, we’d sure miss a lot of it if we don’t ensure fair representation.

Tweet at me @helloitsdrea or email me.