In early 2016, I had a chance to get involved with the Internet of Things through my local Women Who Code hardware hackathon. Fast forward a year later, I’ve participated in multiple IoT hackathons, including the one that sent me to Beijing, China and have become an Intel Software Innovator as a result. This past February, 2017, I had the opportunity to give back to women in tech by mentoring at FemmeHacks, an Intel-sponsored women’s hackathon, and thus come full circle from participating in women’s hardware hackathons to now giving back and mentoring at one. Here’s my story of participating at FemmeHacks 2017 in Philadelphia.
FemmeHacks was a women’s software hackathon with an emphasis on building websites or mobile apps within a day of hacking. There were many sponsors there, including big names like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. I was there to represent Intel as an Intel Innovator with Grace Metri, Intel’s Developer Evangelist and lead of the IoT division of the Intel Innovators program. Intel, of course, supplied the hardware component to some of the teams’ projects that day.
Grace and I began the day by giving a presentation on IoT and the Intel Edison board, the powerful microcontroller that was going to power some of the awesome hardware projects we were going to see that day.
We spent most of the day mentoring and assisting the teams that worked on integrating the Intel Edison board and Grove sensors into their projects. Here’s a few of the teams that I helped mentor .
One team was working on a laptop theft prevention system. At one point, their system was sending an SMS text message any time the vibration sensor showed a change, resulting in gobs of messages being sent. This wasn’t helpful if, say, someone just bumped or touched the laptop as they’re walking past the table at a coffee shop, but didn’t actually pick the laptop up. It was creating a lot of false positives, so I suggested that they program a threshold so that a text message would only be sent when that threshold was met. I was happy to hear that they took my suggestion and it paid off (hint: keep reading to find out what happens!)
At the end of the day, around 9 pm, was judging time. Grace and I made the rounds to judge the hardware projects, which happened in a science fair style.
By this point, I was exhausted! Grace and I were there from 8 am to 10:30 pm — over 14 hours. Grace, an old pro at supporting these hackathons, asked engaging questions of the teams during the judging period to show her interest, whereas the best I could muster in some cases was, “Great job!” and “Congratulations!” So for those teams who thought I wasn’t interested: It was a long day, but I was glad to be there. You all inspired me! 🙂
There were easily over a hundred participants at FemmeHacks, and a couple of dozen teams, which was amazing. Many people were just learning to build a website or program or work with sensors and microcontrollers for the first time – a day of many firsts!! It was mostly college students that attended, but there were some local high school students too. All built impressive projects for one day of coding. I was especially impressed with the teamwork, creativity, and can-do attitude of the participants.
Among the projects that were presented during the judging period, I remember quite a few Philadelphia visitor websites, one college prep site, and another website on females/women in STEM site.
Among the hardware projects that were presented, there were at least a half dozen of them. For the winning entries that used Intel technologies, one team, a one-woman show, presented the project “Morse Code Decoder”. Using a push button, sound, and other sensors, she delivered morse code to an LCD display.
Another winning team was “Techie Guard”, which was designed to protect your laptop from theft at coffee houses (See? I told you it paid off!). Using a vibration sensor on the laptop, it would send the laptop owner a Twilio text message if said owner stepped away to use the bathroom, for example.
The final winning team presented the project “Closet Chic”. Using 4 sensors, an LCD display, and a mobile app, this project uses IoT to help you select the right clothes in your closet given current weather conditions. The mobile app will help you shop using your past preferences, and light up sections of your closet based on those recommendations.
The winning hardware teams got prizes of iPads and robot kits, courtesy of Intel.
Before flying back home, I got to partake in some true Philadelphia activities like eating my first authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich and visiting the Liberty Bell.
Overall, it was a successful trip to Philadelphia, and FemmeHacks went really well. I got to work with Grace, give back to women in tech, see some inspiring projects at FemmeHacks, and go from participating in a women’s hardware hackathon, to mentoring at one. Thanks to Women Who Code and to Intel for giving me those opportunities! It has been an incredible journey, and one that I hope to continue for years to come.