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.