Hackathons (24Hr team/individual sprints of innovation) aren’t new in the tech scene in Nairobi.
Hackers/Developers contest to pitch, program, and present functioning applications in 24 – 48 hours. It is all about innovation, collaboration and … sleep deprivation.
Some state there have been too many such events, but hackathons are ingrained in the ethos of coding and I don’t think they’ll stop any time soon.
In most tech events including hackathons I have attended, women are grievously underrepresented. I couldn’t wait to see how this would turn out.
An all-girls hackathon is something the Nairobi tech community hadn’t experienced before. Well, not until Sat Aug 18th when the Girl App 2012 Hackathon kicked off at the iHub in Nairobi hosted by the Akirachix
The aim of this event was to bring together women from different disciplines to co-create prototype solutions that can address the challenges girls and women face in their day-to-day lives.
The participants (hackers) were mostly college students taking various undergrad courses in Engineering, Computer Science and Commerce.
The geek girls started by “ice breaking” and design thinking sessions led by the iHub Research that went well into the afternoon. Some participants felt the sessions and proceedings dragged as they had expected to check in and hit the ground running, pounding codes at their computers.
“How I would describe an all girl’s hackathon..SLOOOOOW..” – mentioned one of the participants during the event.
The geek girls were to tackle issues on health and fitness, style and fashion, and outreach to women in tech.
After brainstorming and coding all night here are the hacks they came up with:
Health and Fitness for young women.
1. Weight watchers
A J2ME application to calculate BMI and suggest a weight watch (diet) plan.
It would indicate to you how much weight you need to lose/gain within the period of time that you’d be looking to work out for, and would also send you your diet plan via SMS.
The SMS implementation was through Africa’s talking SMS API
2. Fitness Group
The fitness group came up with a Web and Mobile (Android) based Guide to achieving the perfect body.
The app’s diet feature gives food servings and calorie content, supplements info, and sample food menus (7 day timetable) while the exercise feature gives the description and pictures of exercise positions.
Style and Fashion
It is a QT based application that would help women match their outfits based on their wardrobe collection. It allows you to take and upload photos of the items in your wardrobe and match them hence saving you time when searching for what to wear. You can add your collections to the calendar so as to keep track of what you wore to certain events.
2. Window shopping
It is an online portal that aggregates online stores and allows easy searching of clothing items from multiple sites.
Women in tech outreach
Computing being largely a men’s game, Qtech seeks balance by connecting women interested in tech. It is an android application for updating women interested in tech on relevant events, finding mentors and generally encouraging participation in such events.
Drum rolls …and the winners are…
2nd was StyleME
3rd was Weight watchers
4th was Fitness group
5th was Window Shoppers
Up for grabs was KSH 75000 for the winners, KSH 50000 for the runners-up and KSH 25000 for the second runners-up. The groups that came in 4th and 5th got KSH 5000 each.
The judges included iHub’s and akirachix’s very own Linda Kamau, Judith Owigar, Marie Githinji, Gladys Kitony, Angela Oduor, and Cate Kiguru. They were impressed with the commitment, enthusiasm and the implementation of the hacks.
All said and done
After the judges had declared the winners, I got to catch up with the participants. Here’s what they had to say on their All-girls hackathon experience.
“We’re giving the very competitive dudes a run for their money” Miss Irene – Weight Watchers
“I am happy to have met cool guys to hack with” – Jackie Mutua – Qtech
“Glad to have worked with an all-girl tech team” – Jeruto Masiror – Qtech
“I loved the design process session” – Maryann Wangari – Qtech
“I am glad to be part of the winning team. It is a motivation and this will happen again!” – Evelyne Muthoni – Qtech
“I learnt alot” – Teresia – Window Shoppers
The take away
Hackathons (all-girls, all-dudes, all-genders) are about innovation, focus and teamwork in solving a problem.
It is a unique learning experience where you get to test out new ideas and get immediate feedback. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people.
You’ve to connect with teammates, assign tasks and make sure you’re not overlapping your efforts. And after all is said and done, you better have something to show.
I gathered from the participants that most women shy away from tech events because they’re sort of intimidated by the men who take part and that the men in tech are quite aggressive compared to the women. I think confidence is something women in tech can work on. It is just a matter of committing to learning and doing more.
Kudos to the akirachix for setting up a platform to do just that.
The solutions developed (with the exception of Window shoppers application) were all mobile apps (with some having both mobile and web apps)
It is important to note not every solution has to be a mobile app. The future is all about mobility and not the mobile. Don’t “app” everything. Rather optimize content for mobile consumption.
“Mobility trumps mobile. The difference between mobility and mobile is like the difference between hardware and software. Mobile is linked to devices — it is always one thing, wherever it is. But mobility changes with context: cultures incorporate mobile technologies differently. For example, in Africa, SMS technology helps farmers pay bills electronically. In America, it helps teenagers keep up with their friends — an average of 60 times a day. Mobile itself is the nuts, bolts, and infrastructure, while mobility is the context which determines if it all works together or doesn’t.” – Harvard Business Review
Here are a few pointers on how to go about hackathons (You can learn more from Survival guide to your first hackathon):
- Decide what you want to get out of it – meeting new people? Learn a new technology? Win the prize?
- It is also important to attend with an idea
- Solve a problem and not imagined ones as documented in Idd Salim’s blog. Idd advises that the applications developed should be self-sustaining in terms of a solid revenue stream, professionally designed and coded. Don’t Make These 10 Mistakes , Learn From Top Mobile Apps and better yet read Mashable’s Mobile apps trends
- Strip down features to a bare minimum as actual developmental timeframe can often exceed what was originally estimated.
- Team work & communication is prime since hackathons are all about team collaboration. Get to know each other. Know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, preferred programming languages or platforms and delegate tasks based on these attributes.
- Don’t be a sore loser. Even if you didn’t win, there are tonnes of lessons learnt through your experience. Build on that to be better or to develop better solutions. Hackathons are more than just winning prizes
- Done is better than perfect – No matter for learning or winning, aim to finish. 24 hours is not a long time to make a minimum viable product. So start coding as fast as you can. Have a working prototype for demo accompanied by a killer presentation/pitch.
- After the event please, please do follow through on development of your ideas to produce real, tangible applications. What was the purpose of starting on it in the first place?
Finally enjoy and share your experience