5 Reasons to go to a Hackathon


Last weekend I flew to Zurich to attend my second “Hack Zurich”, the biggest hackathon in Europe. Overall that was the fifth time I went to a hackathon and while I got on the plane I found myself thinking, “Why do people go to hackathons? What is it that makes people want to spend their whole weekend working on a project they’ve just come up with?” So during the weekend I tried to find out several reasons to got to a hackathon. Read those reasons here!

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Hacking for female refugees


About a year ago I attended my first hackathon and I have been to a couple more since. I always enjoy going to hackathons and find them inspiring. Recently I went to a really special hackathon which I found worth writing about again. Click here to read the whole post.


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While writing my dissertation I did a small creative project on the side inspired by the hashtag #FromWhereICode. I spent three months on my research, about half of which was coding. I coded at home, at university, in cafes, and even on holiday in France, and I tried taking pictures of as many of my coding spots as possible. To see the result click here!
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Ode to my dissertation


I haven’t written a post in a really long time, and the reason why: I was writing my dissertation. But I’m finally done now! On the one hand, this makes me incredibly happy and relieved, but on the other hand it makes a bit sad too, because this means I’m officially not a student anymore.. I’m a bit reluctant to accept this fact, and so I have decided to not completely let go of my thesis yet and dedicate this blog post to the research I have conducted over the past three months.

Read the whole post here


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Recently, I’ve been working on a new feature for my website: tags. On my wordpress blog I can automatically put my posts in a category, and I decided to implement this on my website as well. In this post I’ll explain how I did that. If you don’t know how to code, but would like to understand what I’m talking about, you should check out Codecadamy, Udacity, or Coursera and take an introductory coding class 🙂

The way in which I post my blog entries on my website is by filling in a form, where I enter the title and content for my post. For adding tags I had to, first of all, adapt the form to include an option of selecting which tags apply to the post. I decided to restrict my tag choice to Fashion, Food, Life-style, Technology, and Travelling, and added checkboxes for each of these categories. So when I write a post, I can check the checkboxes for the tags that apply to the post, which can vary between no tags or all of them. post form

Then I had to include a function in my Python code that gets the value of the checkbox, when it’s checked the tag will be added to the post.

get checkbox value

When it’s checked I want the tag to appear underneath the post, otherwise it shouldn’t show. So I had to make sure the checked tags actually appeared underneath the post by adding some lines to the HTML.

no if statements html

What this code does, is that it adds the value of each tag that has been acquired by the Python code above. So if I have checked the ‘fashion’ checkbox this line: fashion = self.request.get(‘fashion’) will find that the box has been checked and then this line:

p = Post(parent = blog_key(), subject = subject, content = content, password= password,
fashion = fashion, food = food, lifestyle = lifestyle, technology = technology, travelling = travelling)

will put the value fashion = ‘Fashion’, and this will be then added to the post.

Of course, I didn’t just want the tag to appear, but I wanted it to look pretty too, so I styled it in CSS and added a tag icon in front of the tags which I found on Font awesome.

I tested my code on my local host and everything looked great. Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly the case when I deployed my code. The problem was that for all my old posts (the ones I added without tags)  it showed the tag icon with None None None None None.. What happened was that my code was checking whether I had checked any checkboxes or not, but at the time I wrote those posts I didn’t have the checkboxes yet. So I figured the code was showing “None” to indicate that the checkboxes weren’t present. I solved this by creating a couple of if statements that checked whether there was a value for p.fashion at all. p.fashion will have the value ‘Fashion’ if the checkbox has been checked and it will have no value if the checkbox hasn’t been checked or if there wasn’t a checkbox at all. is tag true

You might say it would’ve been easier to just edit my old posts and add tags to them, but unfortunately it seems like you can’t edit old database entries with Google app engine. It’s a problem that I keep running into (when I restyled my website) so if someone has a solution for this, please let me know!

I managed to get it all working, so now I just had one other step to finish: get posts with a certain tag to appear on a page dedicated to that tag. For example, all posts that have the fashion tag should be on the fashion page as well as on the home page. I did this by creating an HTML page for each of the categories and also added these to the menu. Then on each of the pages I added code to make sure that all posts with the belonging tag appear on that page. This is the code for the fashion page:add post to right page

Specifically the line  {% if p.fashion %} checks whether the post has the fashion tag and if it does it should appear on this page.

I was quite happy with the result at this point, but I still wanted to somehow get my older posts without tags on these pages as well. One option, was just to copy the posts’ content into the HTML, but that isn’t a very elegant solution, and it makes the HTML quite lengthy. So I decided to make a horizontally scrolling bar with a picture of each old post belonging to that category, and linking that picture to the whole post. Which I did like this (of course the LINK TO PAGE should be an actual link and IMAGE OF POST an actual image):

horizontal html

horizontal css

And you can find the result at http://www.mereltheisen.com! I’d love to hear your opinion on this new feature, so let me know in a comment 🙂

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Django Girls


I’d like to dedicate this post to an amazing organisation called Django Girls. Django Girls wants “to inspire women to fall in love with programming”. They empower and help women to organise free Python and Django programming workshops by providing tools, resources and support. In the workshops they help you build your first application using HTML, CSS, Python and Django. A typical workshop takes 8 hours and people work in small, 3-person groups with a coach dedicated to each group.

They organise events all over the world and on the 20th and 21st of March I’ll be joining them in London as coach! I’m really excited to help people writing their first application and making them enthusiastic about coding. And I’m sure I’ll learn a lot myself too! Unfortunately, you can’t apply for this workshop anymore, but they have lots of events coming up in other places, such as Groningen, Paris, New York, and Cardiff. If you’re a woman who’s curious about programming but doesn’t have any coding experience yet, I’d definitely recommend going to a Django Girls workshop.

I must say that in general I feel that organisations should be a bit careful with organising tech events just for women, because I think we should strive for equality in tech and I don’t think excluding men from events will help to achieve this. Moreover, such events might give women a wrong idea about what it’s like to work in tech, since in the real world it’s not very likely that you’ll be working just with women. In fact you’ll probably be one of the few or maybe even the only woman working with just men.

Nevertheless, I think Django Girls is a great initiative and I guess taking your first steps into the world of computer science as a woman is not that scary if you’re surrounded by other women instead of a lot of guys who have coded since they were 15 and make Star Wars jokes all the time (yes, I have experienced this). In fact, I think if such an organisation would have been around when I was younger, I might have started coding earlier on. So grab this chance and fall in love with coding! 🙂

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