Hack TJ 2013 and Balancing Work and Family

February 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm 2 comments

Last April, my old high school, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, hosted the largest high school hackathon ever. They were looking for volunteers to serve as mentors for the students as they embarked on 24 hours of programming, so my mother babysat and Ryan and I headed over to the high school to help!

I was very impressed at the size of the event. It took up my school’s whole gymnasium! I was also impressed with the students and the projects they took on. One kid who lost his team was still diligently pursuing a project on steganography. Teams were not intimidating by hooking into APIs, such as Google Maps. A couple of groups did games. Phone applications were popular as well.

Thomas Jefferson for Science and Technology - Hackathon 2013
HUGE event!

I’d say a vast majority of the projects were in Java, which is a language I’m a little rusty on (My last Java project was an Android app I did for fun back in 2010). But Ryan and I still managed to be a good mentors. We found a team working that was working on a ranking algorithm based off the chess rating system. Their Java app version was coming along solidly, but they also wanted an HTML-front end to “up the difficulty level” to impress the judges.

I loved that! HTML was the very first language I ever learned, so it never occurred to me that it could ever be perceived as upping a difficulty level, but the team was right. Most of the other teams did not pursue web-front ends. Anyway, Ryan and I got to have a great time showing the team CSS and teaching them how to troubleshoot JavaScript. On the subject of troubleshooting their JavaScript, I had another moment of being impressed. The students already had AJAX calls in their webpage to try to communicate with their Java backend.

“Did they teach you AJAX in class?” I asked.

“No,” the student said, “I googled it this morning and it looked like what I wanted to do.”

I was struck by his bravery. Even though he had never worked in HTML or JavaScript and only had hours left to the deadline, he dove right in, trying to figure out AJAX. He was foiled by an oddity in the Response header of the data coming down from their Java backend. We fixed that and tweaked the AJAX a little bit and he was good to go!

Alas, our team did not win, but I was super proud of them nonetheless.

Women in Technology
At the presentation/awards ceremony, there was something that stuck out at me. They showed a video entitled “Women in Technology”. It featured alumni of the high school and was intended to inspire the young women in the audience and show them how women can be in technical fields. I applaud the sentiment.

However, the women featured in the video were recent graduates from the high school and still pursuing their upper educations. As a result, when they talked about balancing a technical career and family, they were speculating and not speaking from concrete experience.  I’m not sure how they recruited women for the video and it’s entirely possible email requests went unseen.  If the video did feature some older graduates, my high school has quite a credential list.  We have female TJ programmers working at MITRE, Xiocom, Google, Northrop Grumman, Microsoft, Symantec Corporation, CARFAX, IBM, etc.

BUT… hopefully me and my big ole pregnancy belly was a subtle reinforcement to the message of the video.

Thomas Jefferson for Science and Technology - Hackathon 2013
Pregnant Vicky with Students

It’s constantly a work in progress… but you can be in a technical field and have a family as well. : )

Entry filed under: Web Development.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. narami  |  February 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I have seen what you mention about the teen diving into a new learning experience despite his deadline and I call it fearlessness of youth. When you are young it’s easier to take that sort of risk because you haven’t been through that many dissapointments. If only that lasted more through adultness!!

    • 2. tgaw  |  February 12, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Oh my goodness, you are right. I didn’t think of it like that!!! Great point!


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