At just 8 years old, Casey Hunt taught herself some basic web skills so she could help her father develop a website for his small business. As an adult, she developed software and managed data for a pharmaceutical company. But despite those experiences, she lacked confidence about her coding abilities, she said.
A turning point came when Hunt’s team won the 2020 T9Hacks, a hackathon at CU Boulder’s ATLAS Institute aimed at promoting interest in creative technologies, coding, design and making among college women, nonbinary individuals and other groups that are underrepresented in technical fields. This year, the seventh annual “invention marathon” happens Feb. 18-19 at the ATLAS Institute.
“I was undervaluing my skills because I didn’t know where I fell in the coding spectrum,” said Hunt, a Creative Technology and Design PhD student who builds web applications in the ATLAS THING Lab. “After winning T9, I was willing to take on more code-based projects; before T9 I would not have had the confidence to say to my advisor that coding was part of my skill set.”
At the 2020 event, Hunt and her team worked through the night to develop “Brain Break,'' an award-winning project that periodically encourages those using Google Chrome to take breaks from the Internet by switching to healthy exercises or brain games.
Today Hunt collaborates with University of Washington’s Kids Team to build applications for children to play with toy robots together over the Internet. Her PhD research also involves designing cozy, privacy-conscious, smart environments through a variety of techniques, including e-textiles, long-range RFID (radio frequency identification) and swarm robotics.
One of the last in-person events to take place before the lockdown, the 2020 T9Hacks was Hunt’s first hackathon. After last year’s virtual event, she’s looking forward to participating again in person when T9Hacks kicks off this year on February 18 at 4:30 p.m. Participants will be required to follow CU Boulder's COVID-19 health policy.
Student organizers emphasize that no coding or other technical skills are required to participate in the 24-hour invention marathon and that everyone is welcome. The 2022 theme is “Go Beyond.”
“As students with busy schedules, we often don’t take the time to explore,” says Océane Andréis, a second-year ATLAS graduate student (CTD-Social Impact), who along with Neha Kunapuli, a senior majoring in computer science, are again co-organizing this year’s event. “At T9, participants will go beyond the day-to-day grind. They will be intellectually challenged. They will learn new skills and will be supported by mentors.”
In 2016, T9Hacks was created to be a safe and welcoming environment for women and traditionally underrepresented students to learn, share and play with code. “T9” refers to “Title IX,” an amendment to the Civil Rights Act prohibiting gender-based discrimination in education. At T9Hacks 2021, 66 hackers participated virtually; 74 percent were women and non-binary and 44 percent were first-time hackers. Previous in-person events brought in as many as 120 participants.
This year T9Hacks features four tracks: climate change, accessibility, empathy and education.
The organizers encourage participants to meet new people, including event sponsors and mentors. New sponsors this year include CU Boulder’s Mission Zero Fund, Cardinal Peak, Earnifi and Verily as well as T9 sponsor veterans Twitter, Tortuga AgTech and Wunderman Thompson. Aileen Pierce, teaching associate professor, is the faculty advisor.
While attending the 2020 T9Hacks, Hunt met many sponsors, mentors and participants, and three of Hunt’s team members became part of her “pandemic bubble.”
“Having a community of women to study with throughout the pandemic contributed greatly to my academic success,” she said.