Hackergal Breaks Canadian Record with All-Girl Hackathon

More than 2,900 middle school girls across Canada are making hackathon history today.

Female students in grades six to nine at over 90 schools are taking part in the Hackergal Hackathon, setting a Canadian record for not only the most number of girls participating in an event of this kind, but also becoming the country’s largest-ever hackathon.

“We set the objective to make Hackergal the largest organized hackathon in Canadian history,” said Ray Sharma, the founder of Hackergal. Sharma is also the CEO of Extreme Venture Partners.

“The response from middle schools has been overwhelming and as of today, we’ve exceeded all previous records by nearly 100 per cent from an attendance perspective,” he added.

Hackergal’s hackathons introduce young girls to coding and are aimed at spurring a student’s interest in computer science, engineering and math—fields that continue to see less female representation. Sharma said the exposure to the in-demand skill is key to pique the curiosity of girls.

“But how can a girl know if she even likes coding or has a talent for it if she’s never tried it? We’re introducing middle school girls to coding in a fun, cool way, so that they have the knowledge and experience to select the right curriculum in high school if they choose,” Sharma said.

Learning coding alongside classmates in a no-risk environment can build self-confidence in a skill that hasn’t always been accessible to women. It is part of Hackergal’s mission to both inspire and empower girls to pursue a future in technology.

“Hackergal is so much more than a hackathon. It is a tool to inspire young girls. To encourage them to think bigger — out-of-the-box. It is about problem-solving and pushing through challenges as a team,” said Garth Chalmers, VP of University of Toronto Schools. “Hackergal is empowering girls one hackathon at a time and my hope is that the movement continues to grow and thrive in the months and years to come.”

These coding-related initiatives come at a time when in the United States, it’s predicted there will be over 1.4 million jobs in computing that will need to be filled by 2020, but only three per cent of those jobs are expected to be held by women.

To coincide with the record-breaking hackathon, Hackergal is also launching its national capital campaign to raise $3 million in the next year and a half to scale its events in Canada.

“We want to see Hackergal’s reach extend from coast to coast, giving every middle school girl in Canada the opportunity to participate in our hackathons and camps,” said Matoula Mitropoulos, Hackergal’s managing director of partnerships.

The event comes on the heels of a Brookfield report that found only nine per cent of software developers in Canada are women. A recent Ryerson University study found that women are deterred from pursuing technology if they don’t see themselves reflected in the field. Non-profits like Canada Learning Code and Hackergal are creating experiences they hope will chip away at the larger problem of underrepresentation and fuel new pathways into STEM.