Pearl Hacks will soon host over 400 participants on campus for UNC’s only hackathon designed specifically for female and non-binary students.
Founded in 2014 by UNC alumna and current Google employee Maegan Clawges, Pearl Hacks is a beginner-friendly hackathon open to female and non-binary students 18 or older and will take place from Feb. 21 to 23.
“Pearl Hacks is sort of a cross between a competition and a conference,” Director of External Workshops and UNC junior Tylar Watson said.
The three-day event offers a number of experiences for students. During the 36-hour project-building hacking competition, participants also have the opportunity to attend workshops led by mentors, local community members and corporate sponsors like Twitter and Google.
“There’s like two things happening that you can participate in,” Watson said. “So if you are working on a project and you get stuck, you can say ‘OK, I’ll go do a workshop for the next hour.’”
Pearl Hacks hosts workshops and sponsor fairs that give participants the chance to meet with recruiters and professionals in the technology field, said Prasiddhi Jain, a junior biostatistics and computer science major and director of hacker experience for Pearl Hacks.
“We have a lot of mentors from companies like Google and Microsoft, so a lot of big name companies,” Jain said. “So you develop relationships, and you develop skills to talk to a lot of different kinds of people.”
While competition and networking are large components of Pearl Hacks, Jain said the goal of the weekend is to create a positive environment for those involved.
“It’s like a safe, inclusive space for people to just explore their interests in technology,” junior and Vice President of Logistics Hannah Cao said. “A lot of people associate hackathons with making a project and being really experienced. With Pearl Hacks, it’s just to create a space safe space for women and non-binaries, which is not very present in the computer science community.”
This year’s event will be the seventh annual hackathon, and Jain said the Pearl Hacks team has been working on making the weekend as inclusive as possible.
“We are trying to frame a lot of our workshops, our panel discussions, projects and events throughout Pearl Hacks toward being more beginner-friendly,” Jain said. “So we’re hoping that a lot of people that are attending — that haven’t had any coding experience or do identify themselves as beginner-friendly — really learn a lot from it and have a positive experience.”
In anticipation for the main event, Pearl Hacks is also hosting a number of “first look” beginner workshops from Feb. 10 to 13. These events are open to all genders.
As the weekend approaches, Cao said the Pearl Hacks team intends to strengthen and share their message that tech is for everyone.
“Tech is such a buzzword right now, and Pearl Hacks creates that safe, inclusive, welcoming space for people to just explore their interests,” Cao said. “There’s no commitment, there’s no pressure.”