Hebron to host Digital Divas Saturday


Katlynn Fox

Sophomore Marsay Mahaley practices for the competition in the third period AP Computer Programming class. Mahaley is set to compete on Saturday, starting at 8 a.m.

The computer science program will host Digital Divas, an all-girls computer programming competition, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 1. Participants have a chance to win awards and internships from the competition. 

“We are expecting almost 300 girls from 30 different schools around the Metroplex to attend,” computer science teacher and coordinator Jared Stites said. “There are a lot of things that have to be organized and prepared for it to be a positive event, and it is very important to me that this be a positive experience for everyone and the girls have fun.”

The event will include keynote speakers, workshops and competitions for three different divisions: novice, intermediate and advanced. 

“I competed in Digital Divas last year, and I felt really inspired by the guest speakers and their stories,” senior Julia Do said. “It’s nice knowing that looking at them on stage, you can see that they are successful and thriving in a field that they enjoy. It gives me hope that I can also do the same in the future.”

The purpose of Digital Divas is to introduce a new generation of young girls to computer science and to promote the growing number of women present in the STEM workforce. 

“In the case of the Divas, it’s both a contest and a collaboration,” Stites said. “Success, in this case, is to affirm all the young women that attend that there are other girls like them, and there are women in this industry who have been in their shoes. It is important to go against the whole stereotype that computer science is just a male-dominated field. We very much need [women]. Women bring a very important perspective to the table.”

Individual teams consist of no more than three girls, and each team is expected to work out a series of problems on paper before transferring their code into a website to be tested. 

“I’m excited because this is my first competition, but I don’t know how it will go,” sophomore Varsha Manellore said. “It takes a lot of time [to prepare] because you get a number of problems and it’s just a matter of how many you can get done in a certain amount of time, so you have to learn how to beat the clock.”

Stites said previous contests have prepared participants for what they might experience in a professional business setting and have started getting young women accustomed to being the minority in the STEM field. 

“On the contest side, my girls are already very independent, and they have experience,” Stites said. “I told them, ‘Look, we’re here to have fun.’ Some girls are very competitive, they want to win first place or win the internships, and some girls are just trying it for the first time and are feeling uncertain or insecure. I commend them because it takes courage to step out there and take your skills and put them out there for people to judge.”

Teams have been preparing for the competition by practicing during various computer science classes and their club meetings, which are after school on Wednesdays. 

“There are some really competitive schools in our district, so it will definitely be a challenge to aim for a high placement like first, second or third,” Do said. “I’m most excited to compete in general, and I think it will be really fun.”