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Female-only hackathon to inspire girls in tech

York University hosts what's being billed as the first all-women hackathon in the GTA.

York University computer science student Farzia Khan is one of the organizers of this weekend’s all-women hackathon.

Eduardo Lima/ Metro

York University computer science student Farzia Khan is one of the organizers of this weekend’s all-women hackathon.

It a scene that screams female empowerment: A crowd of young women huddled under one roof for dozens of hours sharpening their tech skills.

That’s what is happening this weekend at York University, as more than 250 people with a knack for technology go to work in what’s being billed as the GTA’s first all-women hackathon.

Called The Lady Hacks, the event aims to provide a safe, comfortable and supportive platform for female students to explore their technical abilities — all without the fear of being outperformed by their male colleagues.

“Many girls feel intimidated and tend to think that guys have better computer programming skills, which is not true,” said Farzia Khan, a fourth-year student in computer science and one of the hackathon organizers.

“The number of women tech entrepreneurs is not enough, and that’s not very inspiring,” she said, noting when women do participate in traditional hackathons they’re in the minority and don’t always get full credit for their work.

“It leaves them thinking that maybe they are not good enough. That kind of attitude has to change.”

The event runs for 32 hours and participants will be provided with hand-on mentorship and training to work on projects of their choice.

Executives from various companies – Microsoft, Deloitte, Google, Shopify, RBC and more – will also give what are meant to be inspirational presentations that give the women a chance to be noticed by potential employers.

Khan, who also serves as president of York’s women in science and engineering group, said the plan is to make the hackathon an annual event and expand the idea to other universities across the country.

“Girls are good and smart at this,” she said. “It’s just a matter of supporting them and encouraging more of them to participate.”

What you need to know

  • The Lady Hacks takes place at York’s Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, starting 9 a.m. Saturday.

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