Monday, 1 May 2017

CHANGE AGENTS: Tech-savvy girls support the fight against social ills with ICT creations

WHIZ KIDS: Members of the Manchester High team explain their concept to a Scotiabank representative; below, more highlights from the all-day hackathon.

ACCORDING to a video presentation at Monday’s International Girls in ICT Day Caribbean Hackathon, at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston, Black women make up only 3% of the global computing workforce. It’s against this backdrop that the idea for the hackathon was born – to empower and encourage more girls and young women to pursue careers in the ICT field.

Pulling together smart, enthusiastic students from such institutions as Wolmer’s Girls, St. Andrew High for Girls, the American International School, CARIMAC, Excelsior Community College and Manchester High, among others, the event’s main thrust involved challenging the participants to compete against each other by using a tool of their choice – web development, digital art, digital video, mobile app development or animation – to increase awareness and provide solutions for such topical social issues as crime and violence (domestic, sexual, child abuse), cyber-bullying, environmental protection and climate change, agricultural sustainability and drug abuse.

The all-day event, endorsed by NCB and Scotiabank, among other entities, involved such stages as ideation and concept development, solution development, pitch preparation and making the pitch to a panel of judges comprised of accomplished ICT professionals.
The room buzzed with garrulous energy and brain power, as the girls and their mentors huddled at their respective tables, surrounded by screens showing video footage of the other Caribbean hackathons in progress (in Trinidad and Barbados).

Rupert Hutchinson, an IT specialist, was the day’s Challenge Master, tasked with overseeing the day’s proceedings and offering guidance and tips to the young ladies. “Hackathons on a whole are important because they are supposed to bring out creativity and innovation and provide solutions that other people were not able to think up,” he told TALLAWAH as he made his rounds.

The organizers, Hutchinson said, are feverishly working to get more females to enter the ICT field. “We want to increase the number of women working in the industry. So these are high-school students and college kids who have shown interest, and we want to show them that it is a field that is viable.”

In the meantime, the expectations are high for the creations and concepts that will emerge from the Hackathon. In short, they hope to attract major sponsors and investors to take the projects to the next level. “My role is to motivate the girls to produce something spectacular, and my role would have been achieved when they do that. I want to be surprised,” he said. “After this stage, the door will be open to investors, because there could be a winning animation piece that somebody feels deserved to be on TV or a website that deserves an international audience.” 
For the record, the girls evidently gave it their all. “It’s fun but the time limit is pressuring,” admitted 15-year-old Alia Jones one behalf of the St. Andre High team, which created an anti-domestic violence and child abuse website, while Manchester High’s Christina Reid and Abigail Wilson (both 15) said the hackathon has “opened up a new profession for us because I feel I could do this in the future.” 

UWI-based professor Gupta Mansingh is a huge supporter of the Girls in ICT Day initiative. “Programming is a lot of fun because there is immense fun in creating things and seeing them come alive. We are natural creators,” said Mansingh, who does research in analytics. “Everytime I create something I get that wonderful Eureka feeling, and whenever I see my students have it, it makes me job all the more satisfying. ICT is in everything, from rocket science to the fashion business. Data is all around us. We are living in exciting times.”

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