Despite being an individual who’s knee-deep in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-related degree where coding is as commonplace as using a calculator, I am an embarrassingly poor coder. Coding, for me, is like scrolling through files and files of gibberish. Somehow, throughout the years, I’ve managed to scrape through my computer science courses to truly avoid mastering it, relying instead on sheer luck and batting my eyelashes flirtatiously at unsuspecting classmates to receive support. To put it lightly, I objectively have very little coding capability and consider the subject to be the bane of my existence. 

Recently, I stumbled upon an opportunity that would test my skills and redefine my understanding of self-confidence. The Girls in Tech (GiT) Club at UBCO focuses on providing spaces for women/gender-queer folk in the tech community while providing a multitude of opportunities to learn and build confidence in coding. GiT was hosting a 48-hour coding marathon called “Hack-Attack,” which was open to all students at UBCO and promised free food and cash prizes. This year’s theme for the competition was to produce an application that met one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was feasible and scalable, and could potentially have a significant impact. 

Fortunately, I had a dedicated group of four friends, each with their own level of coding expertise and an unwavering commitment to trying. However, I couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling of anxiety about potentially embarrassing myself in front of my teammates, each of whom I deeply admire, due to my lack of computer competency. 

I almost backed out at the last minute, a habit of mine that is consistently fostered by my fear of failure. I find this habit to be persistent and stifling, causing perpetual feelings of shame towards my own shortcomings and preventing me from doing simple things that put me in uncomfortable positions — like attending classes or joining extracurricular projects. Ultimately, looking to break through this cycle and get free food while potentially expanding my skills motivated me to continue moving forward. 

Once the competition began, we harnessed our collective strengths and embraced our individual limitations. Drawing from my experience as an Afghan woman and refugee, we conceptualized an e-learning platform to empower women in Afghanistan, providing them with access to education without the barriers of endangerment due to physical attendance. Despite not being the strongest contributor to our coding application, it meant something to me that I could use my personal experience to design the criteria and needs of our application with my knowledge of the socio-cultural challenges that women in my culture face. 

From what we could tell, we didn’t end up having the best-designed website or flashiest application. Instead of perfecting our code, we had a good night’s sleep and took a long break to paint as a team bonding activity. We focused on our pitch and crafted an idea that spoke to the heart of the problem we were trying to solve. 

And you know what? It worked. 

Against all odds, our authentic approach paid off, and we won first place! Among the 10 other participating teams, there were also brilliant ideas centred on food scarcity, education accessibility, and eco-energy. But beyond the thrill of victory, I found that there’s something inherently valuable and beautiful about participating in hackathons like these. They are more than just an opportunity to practice your coding; they’re incubators for creativity, collaboration, and innovation. They push you outside your comfort zone, force you to think on your feet, and challenge you to find solutions to real-world problems in short amounts of time. 

So why should you have unwavering confidence in everything you do? Sometimes, it’s not about being the best coder or the smartest person in the room. Insecurity can be the silent killer of potential, casting shadows of self-doubt in our pursuit of betterment. Too often, we snip our own branches to prevent ourselves from achieving our full potential from fear of failure or looking stupid. 

Our relentless pursuit of perfectionism — particularly in STEM fields where there is often only one right or wrong answer — becomes our prison, which prevents us from embracing our unique strengths and contributions. 

Hack-Attack may have just been a coding competition. But for me, it was a lesson in pushing myself to try new things and to not put myself down on my limitations. It was a testament to perseverance and the transformative potential of self-belief. 

So go ahead — tackle the next GiT hackathon with your friends, regardless of your experience and discipline. Or perhaps, tackle your own version of a Hack-Attack with confidence and authenticity. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself with what you can achieve when you let your branches grow freely. 

My team, pictured. From left to right: Yemisi Ogungbemi, Annie De Battista, Jeena Javahar, Yosamin Esanullah (myself), and Brody Bird. Photo provided by GiT.

Special thank you to GiT Club for hosting Hack-Attack 2024! This opportunity would not have been possible without Jill (President), Jayati (Vice President), Barha (Head of Operations, Interna)], Tithi (Social Media Manager)], Adara (Secretary), Sunidhi (Treasurer), Vani 

(Designer), and Michelle (Head of Operations, External).