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In My Own Words: Emma Huang '21

By Emma Huang '21

Following an amazing experience last year, I, along with fellow Girl Code club leaders Samantha Burak '20 and Rhea Kapur '21, was excited to bring club members to FemmeHacks* 2020 this past Saturday, February 8, for another empowering day full of creative coding and collaboration. FemmeHacks is an all-women hackathon hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's student-run organization, Women in Computer Science (WiCS). A hackathon is a 24- to 48-hour event that brings together coders to work collaboratively on various computer programming projects and challenges. Started in 2015, FemmeHacks is an annual collegiate hackathon (we were one of the few high school groups to attend), that brings together women-identifying individuals in the greater Philadelphia area to grow in their coding abilities, feel uplifted with like-minded peers, and be mentored by women in the field.  

And empowering it was. Each of us was eager to embark on the day ahead as we made our way to the Pennovation Center (where FemmeHacks was hosted). As soon as we arrived at 8:00 a.m., we were greeted with the smiling faces of collegiate coders and sponsor representatives (our older Girl Code counterparts!) and tables full of "swag" (t-shirts, custom tote bags, and stickers) with uplifting, tech-pun messages such as "" and "be {bold}." The collegiate coders and sponsor representatives served as our mentors, and spoke about what it means to be a woman working in the field of technology at the career panel and various workshops held throughout the day. FemmeHacks was sponsored by technology companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Linode, as well as management companies like Vanguard and Bloomberg.  

Since our Girl Code club had a larger presence at the event this year–10 members as opposed to just three last year–we spent the morning brainstorming ideas for creative hacks and then split into smaller teams. We ultimately decided on our top three ideas and created teams based on our interests and issues we intended to solve with our applications.  

Samantha Burak '20, Anjali Kapoor '20, and Mirika Jambudi '23 teamed up to create Pupper, an app to encourage animal lovers to adopt shelter animals. By completing a short quiz that includes both fun and practical questions, users are given a percentage match with a pet at a local shelter.  

Noticing a lack of mental health support for teens, Aanya Patel '22, Katherine Xie '22, and Ainsli Shah '23 worked together to develop CareGuide, a website that helps teens implement wellness into their everyday lives through comprehensible daily tips.  

My team, Rhea Kapur '21, Eva Schiller '21, Jessica Yatvitskiy '21, and myself, established FantasyFinance, a website that uses familiar interfaces (Twitter and video games) to teach tech-savvy teens the art of investing and market interpretation. It is essential that individuals are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make responsible financial decisions. However, most American teenagers lack this preparation due to an absence of financial education in their curriculum—in fact, only 17 states require students to take a financial literacy course as a part of their high school curriculum. With FantasyFinance, we proposed closing this gap with our interactive financial education game that excites students (even as young as middle schoolers) to learn about the stock market and be more aware of what is happening in the global economy.  

After demo-ing our projects to event sponsors and organizers and pitching them on Devpost (a platform that helps coders participate in hackathons), FantasyFinance won the "Best Financial Hack" award sponsored by Vanguard, one of five prizes awarded. Each of my FantasyFinance teammates and I received Visa gift cards, but the real reward was being able to achieve another accomplishment for Girl Code (we also won an award at the event last year, so it was a two-peat!).  

Girl Code is a Pingry club that was originally founded in 2016 by Daria Fradkin '16, Jessica Li '18, and Lindsey Yu '18 to engage more girls in STEM and computer science within our community. We were happy to reunite with Lindsey, a Penn student and member of WiCS, at the event again. With a larger presence of club members attending this year, I was curious to see how our teams would fare. Hackathons test stamina and are equally entertaining as they are frustrating at times; we devoted our entire day to passionately working on our projects. In fact, we did not see any sunlight that Saturday—by the time we emerged from the Pennovation Center it was 11:00 p.m. Regardless of our experience at hackathons and our technical backgrounds, each and every one of our Girl Coders worked tirelessly with unwavering optimism throughout the day. Each group designed and executed its project in unique ways on a combination of technical platforms. This is what computer science is: it allows individuals to twist their brain in creative ways, which is one of the reasons why I love computer science. The project possibilities are endless (there is room to flex your creativity) and the structures of code reflect how we problem solve and think. Code is like a snowflake: if you give 100 people a prompt, the mechanisms and structure of their solutions will not be the same. 

As a Girl Code club leader, I'm incredibly proud of our growth as coders and of the impressive hacks that our teams created this year at FemmeHacks. We expanded from one team to three teams, and I can't wait to see what FemmeHacks 2021 has in store for us.  

*FemmeHacks originates from the word hackathon, an event in which computer programmers compete in teams to work on a collaborative project. 

Photo: Emma (back right), along with teammates Eva Schiller '21 (back left), Jessica Yatvitskiy '21 (front left), and Rhea Kapur '21 (front right) pose with their award-winning FantasyFinance program. 

Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer,