Students win by building community with tech

Computer Systems Technology (CST) students took home a number of awards at the recent nwPlus cmd-f hackathon for their webapp LinkAge.

The team of Alissa Graham, Cindy Liu, Deanna Lepke, and Melanie Ta earned three sponsor awards: 1st place for TELUS’ Leverage technology to support social sustainability and community building, Most Creative Use of Twilio, and Hootsuite’s Champion the Power of Human Connection.

Enabling social connections

LinkAge impressed the judges and sponsors because it addresses a clear and current issue: loneliness and isolation among the elderly. “The need to have social interactions and quality interpersonal relationships is embedded into our genes, and is critical to our psychological and physical well-being,” explains Cindy.

Yet, unfortunately, many elderly community members experience reduced social contact. And they’ve been hardest hit socially by the pandemic. Given the increased risk for a range of physical and mental health issues, from cardiovascular diseases to poor life satisfaction, the team was inspired to see how technology could help.

“We created Linkage as a way for the elderly to easily talk to volunteers of all ages, either through our simple UI video interface, or through our real-time chat option with a volunteer,” explains Cindy. They designed the app with the user in mind, and made it really easy to use.

The team was really pleased to be able to complete basic functionality, given the much condensed development period of a hackathon. They even had to learn new technologies along the way.

But as CST students, learning new technologies is something they’ve done a lot of. “The CST program not only gave us the confidence and eagerness to learn new things in programming, but it also is where we all met!” says Alissa. “CST has given me a thorough and organized learning experience, so I can build up a concrete foundation for new skills in the future,” adds Melanie.

Diverse prior experience but a shared love of learning

“A few of us came into this program with background knowledge, but not all of us — some of us had no prior programming experience,” says Alissa. Deanna had attended a bootcamp to get a taste of technology before enrolling in the CST Diploma. Cindy had completed a Bachelor of Science degree when she turned to the tech sector. Melanie had previously won awards in high school for her programming skills.

When asked about what they’re looking forward to about careers in the tech sector, the excitement is palpable. “The ability to have so many different options to learn new things, and keep learning new things, to go to work every day and encounter new problems and keep on learning,” according to the teammates.

“We know there are tech careers that will challenge us and keep us thinking.”

Keeping balance in mind, the teammates also value their own mental health, which they say sometimes means taking a day off and doing something they enjoy instead of schoolwork.

“I could not have had a better time working on a team with my friends and classmates for our first ever hackathon together,” says Alissa. “I hope for many more in the future!”

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