By Ntokozo Mayekiso
On the 9th of August 2017, UCT Information Systems (IS) Honours students and coders, Valerie Tshiani, Fadzai Mupfunya, Kungela Mzuku, and Lorna Nqodi won the annual Girlcode Hackathon competition, held in Johannesburg. The 48-hour competition is an initiative run by GirlCodeZA which celebrates and encourages womxn to exercise their talents in the Information Technology sphere, and occurs every year on the first week of August (Women’s month).
According to the winners, the competition consists of formulating a solution like a mobile application, a website or game. Participants must work in groups over the span of 48 hours on a chosen category. The categories for this year’s competition were Social Welfare, Productivity, Retail, and Gamification.
Once that is done, the teams must present their ideas, first to fellow hackers, (later done in more detail through an “elevator pitch” which is made in just under a minute), and then on the final day, to the judges. Throughout the hackathon, industry veterans and practitioners are invited and frequent around the teams, offering hackers assistance on their developments.
Apart from the logistics of the competition, some of the challenges these participants faced transcended the four corners of their computer screens. When Varsity questioned the winners on their achievement and the significance of the competition as a female centred domain, they said: “The greatest myth (if you are to call it that) is the idea that coding is not for womxn but just for men”.
By virtue of this competition being made specifically for womxn all over South Africa, there is the suggestion that some form of marginalisation is present. “Stereotypes such as women can’t code, women can’t think in a scientific way and that women are generally not interested in the IT world, often acts as an inhibitor for women who want to enter technology field”, commented the winners. The winners also felt that whilst institutions have aided in creating opportunity, society still lags and thus more ought to be done in “[empowering] womxn in rural areas and other social spheres”.
Despite the gender stereotypes, Tshiani, Mupfunya, Mzuku and Nqodi (who have gone on to appear on Cape Town TV and feature on radio interviews), encourage not just womxn, but anyone who is interested in this field to discard any technology related fear, never doubt their abilities, and make sure to leave an impact in whatever they do. It is also advised that hackers continue to participate in hackathons as well as “attend tech events in order to gain a broadened sense of what you are a part of especially womxn.”