There is nothing like the feeling that comes from innovating – just ask Marcella Christensen ’22, Arcela Balungaya ’22 and Alexis Ess ’22. The Le Moyne undergraduates recently put their heads together to tackle a problem that has long vexed the multibillion restaurant industry: namely how to make their processes more efficient, profitable and ecologically sound. Drawing on skills they learned in the classroom, the trio developed a new app that could revolutionize the way restaurateurs schedule employees, manage inventory and monitor customer service. Their teamwork and ingenuity earned them Best Restaurant Hack honors at the WICHacks Hackathon, a 24-hour event hosted by Women in Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
And that could be just the beginning.
Hackathons like the one the students entered provide participants with the opportunity to create an app, game, website or other piece of software in a condensed period of time. These “hack marathons” first originated a little more than 20 years ago. Since then, they have grown exponentially and been credited with revolutionizing computer science education. These events spur teamwork and creativity among participants, allowing them to write code and troubleshoot problems in real time. In addition, they allow engineers and other leaders in the tech field to recruit employees who will lead their organizations into the future.
“It was wonderful to be able to take the theories we’ve learned in our classes and to be able to use them to build something concrete,” said Ess. “It required us to communicate, to collaborate and to be creative, which are skills we’ll use for the rest of our lives.”
Events like WICHacks, which was open to women, femme and non-binary individuals, could play a critical role in expanding the number of women in computer science. That is critical for the field moving forward, said Terri Mitchell ’85, creator and facilitator of the College’s STEMpower program, which provides educational and mentorship opportunities for women studying science, technology engineering and math on the Heights. Studies have long shown that diverse teams arrive at better decisions than homogeneous ones. They tend to focus more on facts, to process those facts more carefully, and to be more creative in their thinking. Yet women are awarded just 18 percent of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the United States. Events like the WICHacks could help open the door to the next generation of computer scientists.
“Hackathons provide critical experience to students interested in pursuing a career in software,” Mitchell said. “They give participants real world exposure to collaboration, innovation, deadlines and technical communication. Hackathons are résumé-worthy engagements that are important today, and will continue to equip students with valuable lessons in designing and delivering software.”