The SheLeadsIT ‘Caribbean Girls Hack’ initiative is inspiring the next generation of girls with hackathon events that teach — and test — digital skills across five countries. The 2019 Hackathons are taking place in Jamaica (14 May), St Vincent (17 May), Grenada (21 May), Trinidad & Tobago (24 May) and Barbados (29 May).
Caribbean Girls Hack is a regional initiative supporting ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day, which was celebrated globally on 25 April 2019.
The goals of the initiative are to engage young girls in interactive problem-solving experiences using technology; to empower the girls to pursue studies and careers in ICT; and while doing so ensure that the Hackathon activities are engaging and fun!
Since the launch of the initiative in 2017, some 1200 girls have participated in the hackathons, using ICT tools to engage in hands-on activities including: mobile app development, animation, robotics, digital video, digital art, and web design, to generate solutions to social and environmental issues.
The initiative has engaged girls across the Caribbean, teaching them ICT and problem-solving skills, as well as motivating students to look beyond conventional career roles and to take full advantage of the new opportunities offered by the digital revolution.
The hackathon initiative also prioritizes sharing knowledge and insight from role models in the technology industry, through the Featured Speaker and Webinar series, including speakers from Google, LinkedIn, NASA, Facebook, Brocade and many others.
Two students who embody the success of this initiative are Shanique Fagan and Mickalia Grant — Jamaican young women who participated in the 2017 Hackathon.
At that time, Ms Fagan and her teammates formed XSCreate, a group that offers digital marketing and graphic design solutions, and develops web, mobile and desktop applications.
Ms Grant’s team pitched the mobile app Quick Alert, which aimed to simplify reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault by alerting the authorities or emergency contacts with a simple shake of the device, voice command or the click of a button.
Both teams were winners at the 2017 Jamaican Hackathon, which opened doors for their careers.
The initiative not only gives girls confidence and the ability to network with other girls in tech, it “motivates them to pursue their dreams regardless of what the stereotypes say,” says Ms Fagan.
As final year students in the BSc Computer Information Systems programme at Northern Caribbean University, Ms Fagan and Ms Grant were informed about the Hackathon by the Chair of the Department. They were inspired by the opportunity to put their skills to the test and meet a wider community of girls in technology across Jamaica’s capital, Kingston.
Ms Grant said she was compelled by the idea of “an all female cyber movement for female empowerment” and decided to join the “groundbreaking” Hackathon.
The Hackathon gave their teams the platform to demonstrate their products, while refining their business pitch and delivering an excellent presentation, gaining special recognition. Ms Fagan and Ms Grant were offered internships at the Jamaica National Group, a national conglomerate that provides a wide array of financial, technology, creative and fleet management services.
Using the technical capabilities that they had gained through their Computer Information Systems degree, and the innovative skills they had honed through the Hackathon experience, both Ms Fagan and Ms Grant excelled in their internship.
Ms Fagan was offered an exciting job as a Release Engineer at Jamaica National Group. As a Release Engineer, she uses these skills every day in designing and releasing software.
Ms Grant translated her experience into a job as an IT Analyst at Jamaica National Group, focusing on project management to provide exceptional products.
Both women are dedicated to furthering their careers in the IT industry.
“My main focus is to further my career in DevOps by acquiring certifications relevant to that field. I’ll also be starting my Masters programme in 2020,” Ms Fagan said.
Ms Fagan acknowledges the importance of involving girls in tech as key to unlocking their desire to join the industry. Continuing the cycle of support for girls in tech is important to Ms Fagan.
“I try to get involved with programmes that influence youth in tech,” says Ms Fagan. “This has great significance to me, because I’m a product of tech outreach and I know the value it adds to one’s life.”
For Ms Grant, the Hackathons have made the girls who participate more confident and self-empowered. She says the initiative “supports our young women to bridge the gender gap even faster.”
Ms Fagan and Ms Grant are stellar examples of the high potential of the girls who participate in the Caribbean Girls Hack Hackathons, translating their experience into forging a career in the technology industry.
Their successes motivate the generation of girls who are coming up behind her, including those who will participate in the 2019 Caribbean Hackathons.
From one generation to the next, some words of encouragement for the current cohort:
Caribbean Girls Hack is proud to join with #GirlsinICT and @EQUALS to facilitate these opportunities that allow Caribbean girls and young women to tap into their power and soar!
This year, we already know that, once again, the competition will be fierce and although there are special prizes and winning team rewards, what we know for sure is that all the girls are already winners. Today, they are more than tech consumers, they are tech creators!
Find out more by following us on Facebook and Twitter @cgirlzhack and Instagram @caribbean_girls_hack