Wits women code their way to victory


GIRLS CODE TOO: The winning team was a group of Wits electrical engineering students, Chelsey Chewins, Bronwyn Scott (who won the best hacker award), Pelonomi Moiloa, Linda Khumalo, Sarah Ward and Dineo Tshaai.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Photo: Provided

The all-women 24-hour hackathon took place last weekend at the University of Pretoria’s MakerSpace, with a Wits team winning the competition. 

By Dana Da Silva

A group of Wits electrical engineers have won the first of its kind, all-women software programming 24-hour competition.

The event, which is called a hackathon, gathers computer programmers, hardware developers, software programmers and people from other fields to collaborate on software projects.

The hackathon was put together by GirlCode, a starting non-profit organisation which will focus on coding initiatives like workshops for girls, and Boxfusion, a black managed and owned software development company which focuses on teaming up with the South African Public Sector.

“The concept of hackathons is nothing new, hackathons are a natural place to start generating interest for [information and communication technology] amongst the women community,” said one of the event organisers Zandile Keebine.

The problem is that women often feel “overpowered” by men when they attend these events. Which is why Girl Code decided to make it just for women, a first.

Teams were given 24 hours and a box of components to tackle one of the topics given by the organisers.

They had to pick from topics such as smart homes, women’s health, education and crime prevention.

Participants had to enter in teams of five to six people and had to develop solutions for their topic within 24 hours.

Thirty women attended with six mentors and three judges, Dichaba Rammopo (Senior Developer), Ian Houvet (Managing Director of Boxfusion) and Jaco Bezuidenhout (Manager of MakerSpace).

The competitors were largely made up of university students from a variety of institutions, such as the University of South Africa, Wits and the University of Pretoria.

“We decide to do a smart home system, which was basically like a home that runs itself,” said Bronwyn Scott who was on the winning team and won the best hacker award.

“We had temperature sensors, light sensors, motion sensors, humidity and water levels so you can water the garden and change the temperature within the house automatically.”

Judges had to choose the winning team based on whether they solved a real problem, were innovative, made it scalable and whether it was well executed.

“This solution has numerous applications and it will be no surprise to see it being the norm in a few years,” said Keebine about the winning team.

It wasn’t only university students and electrical engineers that entered the hackathon.

“What was quite nice as well was although it was an IT [internet technology] competition technically, they encourage that even if you had never done IT you come,” said Sarah Ward who was on the winning team.

There were also women who were interface designers, graphic designers, software developers, computer programmers and even a nuclear engineer.

“Having been there was really, really fun. So I think they should get out there and tell more people because it was actually a great experience,” said Ward.

Campus radio station’s twitter account hacked

A number of controversial tweets about the Wits SRC (Student Representatives Council) elections were sent from the Voice of Wits (VoW FM) twitter account earlier today. Mike Smurthwaite, VoW station manager, confirmed that the twitter account of the station had been hacked and the tweets were not official VoW FM tweets.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Smurthwaite said his team noticed something strange when the morning crew tried to log on to the station’s Twitter account, only to find the password was not working.

The crew then tried to recover the password by using the ‘lost password’ feature on Twitter which would send an email to the registered account.

According to Smurthwaite, VoW then discovered they could not access their email as the account has been in maintenance mode since this morning.

“I didn’t see any notification that it was going to happen. It just happened to have coincided at the point these guys took control of our account. They said they’ll send us a notification when it’s back up and that notification hasn’t been sent,”, said Smurthwaite.

The alleged hacker tweeted SRC elections related tweets and retweeted other student organisations.


HACKED: The VoW FM twitter account was hacked and used to send tweets in support of the EFF. Graphic: Wits Vuvuzela.

VoW had not tweeted or retweeted anything since the morning, Smurthwaite said.

“All of those retweets and tweets are done by someone or a group of people acting with their own agenda,” he said.

VoW FM has lodged a complaint with the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) to pass on to the election officer to investigate the matter and assure the campus community that the tweets and retweets from the station’s account do not represent the views of VoW.

“It looks like we are supporting a particular entity and as an organisation we are politically neutral, we provide a platform for people to debate and we leave it up to people to decide which stories they believe or who they want to support or what the facts are,” said Smurthwaite.

Smurthwaite believes there is a possibility the hacker knows someone who works at the station, that an employee was bribed or that a former employee who was “pissed off” with the organisation saw it as an “opportunity because now they have political ambitions.

“We can however say for a fact that no one was doing it here at the station because you can see exactly what people are doing at what machines and we track user activity. So we can see that it wasn’t happening here, which means that this person was using it from another location,” Smurthwaite said.

Around 6pm this evening, VoW managed to recover access to the Twitter profile but declined to delete the earlier tweets until an investigation is completed.