Four UCT Honours students are elated after winning the 4th annual GirlCode Hackathon – a 48-hour non-stop programming challenge in Johannesburg over the weekend.
The four-woman team from the University of Cape Town’s Information Systems (IS) department, scooped the first prize of an all-expenses paid trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S. During the 48-hour challenge, they created an innovative website, ‘Amava’ which means ‘experience’ in isiXhosa and connects volunteers with NGOs.
“Winning is surreal. We can’t quite believe that we’re going to the US. We are very, very excited about going to Silicon Valley to learn more and network. It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said team member, Fadzai Mupfunya.
The challenge was run by non-profit organisation, Girl Code, which aims to empower women through technology. It also encourages and motivates women to pursue careers and leadership positions in the male-dominated tech industry. The GirlCode Hackathon is held annually on the first weekend of August to dovetail with Women’s month.
“This experience has given us the confidence to show clearly that we have a lot to bring to the table. As women, we can rise to the top in the tech space,” said UCT IS Honours student, Valerie Tshiani.
The UCT IS honours students chose social welfare as their category and targeted a solution for unemployment. Team member, Lorna Nqodi, said the website connected non-governmental organisations and volunteers in a novel way for mutual benefit.
“Amava is targeted at unemployed millennials and people who want to upskill themselves. It directly links volunteers with roles that are advertised in the workforce. These include posts for accounting, engineering and software development that are needed by NGOs that can’t afford to hire these skills.”
“The benefit of using Amava for volunteers is to gain experience and get references that can be used to market themselves to potential employers.”
Volunteers are able to find NGOs in communities close to them, while transport and food costs would be covered.
“As an unemployed millennial, transport and food costs are often a hindrance when it comes to volunteering your time with no pay. Amava specifies that these costs are covered. We want people from different economic backgrounds to volunteer, gain experience and attain usable references.”
Kungela Mzuku said participating in the GirlCode Hackathon had been an inspiring experience.
“We coded and worked for 48 hours. We didn’t sleep at all, but were kept going with food and drinks and encouragement,” said Mzuku. Speakers from the industry and mentors kept the inspiration and energy up. At the end of the challenge, the teams presented their website to the judges. UCT was joined by teams from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in the top three places.
Vice-Chairwoman of GirlCode, Jeanette Theu, said the GirlCode Hackathon was open to all women who wanted to collaboratively create a website, game or mobile app that addressed a selected real world challenge.
“At most hackathons, the main incentives are cash prizes, international trips and bragging rates, But we believe that women would be more drawn to a more altruistic goal, projects that will make a difference to society as a whole.”
They said the hackathon was intended as collaborative learning experience in which everyone would walk away with new knowledge and starter kits which would continue to help them continue their journey in exploring the ICT space.
The four-woman team called ‘Ruby’ credited UCT’s IS department and their lecturers for encouraging them to enter the GirlCode Hackathon and for arranging for them to participate in Johannesburg and ultimately achieve one of their dreams.