This weekend (Jan 28-29), the third annual DeltaHacks hackathon was held at the Engineering Technology Building. Organized by a student group known as Phase One, the event was attended by more than 500 participants from McMaster and other campuses. In this Q&A, Stephanie Koehl, Co-Director of DeltaHacks and a level III Computer Science student at Mac speaks about the event.
What does it take to be a hacker?
Koehl: An eagerness to learn is a big thing. I think “hacker” is a misleading term because it seems intimidating. It is a term where you think you need to have a lot of knowledge or be someone who very committed to technology, but I think being a hacker is just being willing to learn and willing to try different solutions to a problem. The whole idea of a hackathon is to have people come together and try to think of these weird solutions that they wouldn’t normally work on… they get to come up with these really cool solutions to problems.
We really want to inspire the hackers to create something that if implemented large-scale, would have a socio-positive impact on the world—we want to make them dream big.
There is this common notion about hackathons being really specific to people in engineering as or software-related programs. For this event itself, what measures did you take to make it more interdisciplinary?
Koehl: I think for marketing, we tried to reach out to different faculties. We reached out to the presidents of different programs and faculties and we tried to get them to push it that way. It is kind of unfortunate that the stigma is that you can only be in computer science or you can only be in software to be a hacker. There is great value in people who are in Political Science or health sciences or psychology even.
Computer science is so versatile that you can make projects given any subject. It is really nice having someone who is from a different faculty and can bring different perspectives. I think in university, your friend group is mostly the people who are in the same program, so it’s nice to be able to interact with new people.
What are some of the best ideas you have seen in DeltaHacks?
Koehl: There was someone who made a website for Syrian refugees by promoting local restaurants and grocery stores that would have foods similar to Syria. It tried to link them to community centres and resources on what Canadian culture is… so I thought that was a cool idea.
Another one was a game for high school students to try out different engineering practices and see if engineering was for them. Just little puzzle games and then it would relate each puzzle game to a different stream of engineering.
We hear a lot about of hackathons at other campuses, so what makes this actually unique to our university?
Koehl: I think one of the biggest things about McMaster is that it is world-renowned for its health sciences program. That is why we always try to partner with them and make it a healthcare-based hackathon because we want to use our strengths to our advantage. We have access to hundreds of healthcare professionals that not a lot of other universities have.
What was the biggest challenge in getting women to come to this event?
Koehl: This year, both of our co-directors were women, which I thought was really fortunate for us. We tried to lead by example rather than marketing directly to women, since it comes off the wrong way.
For the past two years, our registration rate has been 18 per cent female. This year, the ratio of females that applied was 24 per cent, which is a slight increase.