Four UCT IS Honours students have won the fourth annual GirlCode Hackathon – a 48-hour non-stop programming challenge – and will soon leave for am all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley in the US.
During the 48-hour challenge, they created an innovative website, “Amava” which means “experience” in isiXhosa and connects volunteers with NGOs.
“Winning is surreal,” says team member Fadzai Mupfunya. “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.”
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,” UCT IS Honours student Valerie Tshiani. “As women, we can rise to the top in the tech space.”
The students chose social welfare as their category and targeted a solution for unemployment. Team member Lorna Nqodi says the website connected non-governmental organisations and volunteers in a novel way for mutual benefit.
“Amava is targeted at unemployed millenials 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 says participating in the GirlCode Hackathon was 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,” says Mzuku.
UCT was joined by teams from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in the top three places.
Jeanette Theu , vice-chairwoman of GirlCode, says 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 rights, 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.”
Theu says 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.