QUESTees Thrive at Technica, UMD’s Largest Hackathon
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of everyone this year, the University of Maryland and QUEST communities have risen above these obstacles and continually achieved impressive feats. One instance of this resilience is the immense success of Technica, the only all-women and non-binary hackathon at UMD, and now the largest hackathon at the university.
A hackathon is an event in which a large number of people engage in collaborative technology projects (hacks). Technica is a 24-hour hackathon that provides individuals of all experience levels and ages with a platform to learn about the possibilities within technology and build something that they are passionate about. Technica 2020 was conducted completely virtually through a custom platform ideated, designed, and developed in-house by student organizers. Technica hosted 1,868 attendees from all continents except Antarctica this year, officially making it the largest hackathon at UMD.
When speaking with Gesna Aggarwal (Cohort 32), this year’s Co-Executive Director of Technica, she expressed how proud she is of “how quickly and efficiently the team was able to pivot to a virtual environment and keep the essence of Technica alive during these uncertain times.” She largely accredited her success in effectively communicating within the organizing team to her experiences working with different teams and clients in QUEST. “The only way I was able to co-lead the Technica team was due to the emphasis placed on clear and open communication [in QUEST].”
Gesna isn’t the only QUESTee involved in Technica; many QUESTees support the hackathon as members of the organizing team and participate in the weekend as hackers. Two hackers with particular success this year were Tania Arya (Cohort 33) and Mausam Patel (Cohort 33), who won the Hack Islamophobia challenge. Together, they developed a tool to highlight the influence of Islamophobia in the United States. The team scraped Twitter data to extract the locations of where Islamophobic speech was present, and then mapped those hotspots and connected them to current news events with the same keywords to create an impactful visualization of the presence of Islamophobic sentiment in the country.
After developing their product, they then presented their hack to a panel of judges, in which they detailed the identified need, functionality, and development process to corporate sponsors of the Hack Islamophobia challenge. When reflecting on their Technica 2020 experience, Tania and Mausam shared how much they realized they have grown from their time in QUEST over the past year. Their ability to articulate their thoughts and convey meaning from technical work has become “instinctual” to them through their QUEST projects. By keeping their users in mind throughout the development process, the team members were able to achieve their goal of maximizing the insights from the tool, generating value from their work.