September 1, 2016

A computer science major founds HackHolyoke

Eva Snyder ’17

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Ask me what I thought about computer science as a senior in high school and I would have told you that I’m not interested in sitting in some windowless basement learning to code. I knew I wanted to pursue music.

Until that Computer Science 101 course. It taught me that computer science was creative, innovative, and exciting—and that I could use it to bring the ideas in my head to life. Before long, I also discovered the rapid prototyping culture of the hackathon and attended my very first one freshman year.

Computer Science Student/ Advantage of a women's college

It was a dismal experience to say the least. My small team of women pretty much represented the only female hackers in the room at the more than 120-person event. Guys flirted with us throughout the night as we worked—and made a point to tell us our code wasn’t going to work.

After the hack, I turned to one of my professors to figure out a way to create a different kind of hackathon. One that broke down the walls of competition and was inclusive to all, regardless of gender, experience, or college/university. One that modeled a work environment with an equal male-to-female ratio. 
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In fall 2014, HackHolyoke was born. Through social media, we achieved our goal of bringing an equal number of women and men to the hack. To dial back the competitiveness, we engaged teams in conversation about their projects throughout the 24-hour period, following their progress in between the 2:00 am dance party and the cupcakes.

HackHolyoke quickly gained recognition and we were lucky enough to have Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (watch the video we created to entice him to come) and app developer and model Lyndsey Scott attend our second one! But the moment Reddit posted a positive Facebook message celebrating the event and some negative comments rolled in, I realized just how far we still have to go.

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I even wrote a blog post defending HackHolyoke, our vision, and our environment. I am angry that we still need to make the case for why the industry needs to change. And I intend to continue to work to make that change reality—something my women’s college experience and computer science major have given me the confidence to do.

In high school, I never thought I would organize something as large and humbling as HackHolyoke. Today, I’ve learned that being a leader is about taking a series of small steps that lead to something bigger.

Lets get to work. Visit us!

Eva Synder ’17 hails from South Hadley, Massachusetts. She is a computer science and music double major at Mount Holyoke. She’s also a self-proclaimed inventor who has tinkered with hardware to the point where she has an accidental conductive paint tattoo. Her life motto: make an App or a Rap.
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