Mansi Saini’s hackathon journey began after hearing about an upcoming hackathon from a Girls Who Code alumni email newsletter. Having only taken a two-week Girls Who Code web dev camp to learn the basics of HTML and CSS, she decided to dive straight in and see what hackathons were all about, hoping to gain new technical skills and meet new people along the way.
Now, two years, 14 hackathons, and countless mentoring and leadership roles later, Saini, a thriving sophomore computer science student: computer game design student at UC Santa Cruz Baskin School of Engineering, was named one of the Top 50 Hackers of 2022 by Major League Hacking (MLH). Each year, MLH, the official league of student hackathons and the world’s largest community of early career developers, selects 50 winners from a pool of more than 150,000 active community members worldwide for their outstanding contributions to the tech ecosystem and STEM education.
“Being selected means having your accomplishments recognized as the best percentage of the best percentage of new technologists today,” said Nick Quinlan, MLH’s chief operating officer.
Saini has been particularly recognized for her commitment to supporting new hackers through various leadership and mentorship roles she has held.
“I was a little shocked to learn that I had won this award after entering the hackathon community about two years ago, but I was also proud to see how far I had come with my hackathon course,” Saini said. “I remember thinking that hackathons were about breaking into computers, but during my first hackathon, I quickly realized that was not the case. I started with very little knowledge of coding, and now I have all this experience with front-end and back-end technologies, cloud products, and more. My participation in hackathons has fueled my desire to pursue an education in computer science and a career in technology.”
Tap into new passions
Saini participated in his first competitive hackathon during his senior year of high school. With minimal coding experience, she and her team of friends developed a website to help middle and high school students explore a wide range of career paths and prepare for college.
Shortly after completing her first hackathon, Saini joined TechTogether, a nonprofit that runs programs and hackathons across the country with a focus on building an inclusive hacking community for women. and non-binary people.
“TechTogether is one of the most inclusive communities I’ve been a part of. I’ve had the opportunity to develop strong relationships with industry professionals and students, some of whom have become good friends of mine. explained Saini, who is currently a TechTogether mentor working primarily with newbie hackers.
It was through TechTogether that Saini discovered the MLH community. In addition to participating as a hackathon competitor, she has also taken on the roles of coach, mentor, judge, and organizer within the MLH organization. As Saini discovered a passion for IT and worked to develop a suite of technical skills, she wanted to find a way to give back to the hackathon community. One of those ways has been to help others, especially new hackers, find their footing and develop their computer skills.
When asked what advice she had for students who want to get involved in hackathons but lack the confidence to get started, she replied, “Go for it. Hackathons are for everyone, regardless of your educational background.
A community of female engineers
When it came to choosing a university to attend, finding a community of female engineers was one of the most important factors for Saini.
“One thing that differentiated the Baskin School of Engineering from other engineering schools I had entered was the number of women studying computer science,” Saini explained. “Being part of a diverse and inclusive community is important to me.”
Saini chose Baskin Engineering’s Computer Science: Computer Game Design program because she wanted to merge her passions for programming and graphic design.
“My whole freshman experience at UC Santa Cruz was wonderful — from being surrounded by a welcoming community to meeting new friends in and out of my program, I enjoyed every moment of it,” Saini said. “Apart from my curriculum and all the work around the hackathons I’ve been doing, I’m also involved with the UCSC Adventure Rec program. Every outdoor activity I take part in is a great way to decompress from my busy schedule and to recharge my creativity.
Over the next few years, Saini plans to continue participating in hackathons across the country as a competitor, judge, coach, and mentor and to explore the field of human-computer interaction.
“It’s amazing to have such a strong engineering community here at UCSC. I was so intimidated to be one of the few tech girls in the room,” Saini said. “But this fear is gone at Baskin. Everyone is so friendly and always ready to help you succeed.