ATLAS students will host the sixth annual T9Hacks the weekend of March 19-21, promoting interest in creative technologies, coding, design and making, among college women, non-binary individuals, people of color, those with disabilities and others who may have felt marginalized during hackathons or other technical activities. Student organizers emphasize that no coding or other technical skills are required to participate in the 36-hour invention marathon and that everyone is welcome.
Typically held at the ATLAS Institute, this year’s hackathon will have a virtual format.
Océane Andréis, a first-year ATLAS graduate student (CTD-Social Impact), and Neha Kunapuli, a junior majoring in computer science, are co-organizing this year’s event. “T9” refers to “Title IX,” an amendment to the Civil Rights Act prohibiting gender-based discrimination in education.
In the interview that follows, Andréis and Kunapuli discuss their involvement in the event.
ATLAS: What's new this year?
O: We really wanted to emphasize that we are including everyone, so that’s why the 2021 theme is “Everyone’s a Hacker.” Being a “hacker” doesn't just mean coding–it’s what cool things you can create, design and brainstorm in a set amount of time. Also, because of our inclusive theme, this year we will accept projects that aren’t code-based. We’re open to any solutions that participants can create in 36 hours.
N: It can be intimidating to attend hackathons, especially if you will be coding a lot. So we also changed T9’s tagline from being for “women and non-binaries” to being for “women and traditionally underrepresented students.” We hope to be more inclusive of people of color and those who may have felt marginalized. We want to create a safe space for everyone.
Another major change is that this year’s event will run virtually on two platforms, Zoom and gather.town. We’ll use Zoom for opening and closing ceremonies and announcements, as well as for breakout rooms for mentors and sponsors to meet with participants. On gather.town participants will interact with others as avatars. We hope the avatars will bump into each other and start conversations, as participants would during in-person hackathons.
There are also five new tracks this year: underserved populations; health; children and education; Earth protection and sustainable development; and equality. Seminars will be offered before the event so participants can learn about specific issues for each track to help them begin thinking about ideas that could help mitigate those problems.
Also, instead of the usual 24-hour hackathon, we spread the event over three days, so participants can get some sleep!
ATLAS: Tell me about your first experience with T9Hacks.
N: I first participated my freshman year, and my team coded a text-based adventure game. Until that point we had only completed one computer science class, but I felt comfortable because T9 was geared towards beginners. It was a great learning experience because company mentors showed us how to improve the game’s features.
Since I had such a great first experience, I became involved in planning T9 my sophomore year, taking charge of T9’s logistics, including the finances, catering and photography. I ran around during the event making sure mentors had what they needed and everyone was having a good time. It was definitely a busy day, but it was really fun.
ATLAS: You're very busy students. Why did you decide to organize the 2021 T9Hacks?
O: I really, really wanted to feel connected with ATLAS in a more profound way than just my classes, and I thought T9Hacks would be a great opportunity to connect with other CTD students and professors. Because this is my first year as a grad student, and because everything is remote, I didn’t know anyone. Through joining T9 Hacks, I met other grad students. Our T9 meetings are not like our usual Zoom class conversations about homework; it's about how we can make this experience more fun for everyone. I appreciate that it’s a different conversation. And I really like that T9 is for everyone.
N: I just loved running around last year talking to different people and helping where needed. I wanted that experience again, although this year it will be different because the event is virtual.
I was super-excited to get on board. Honestly, I just like the environment of T9Hacks. Everybody on our team is on top of things and passionate about what they are doing, which is really exciting.
ATLAS: What are your hopes for the 2021 T9Hacks?
N: Last year we had a great turnout, with more than 50 percent women and non-binary folks. I am hoping we get at least the same numbers this year, and that people of color, the LGBT community and other underrepresented groups participate.
O: I hope participants gain confidence from realizing they can create an awesome project in little time. I also hope they will have fun and learn new skills. And though it’s an online format, I still hope people make great connections with other participants.