Many of the updates and improvements in technology do not come from team meetings or drawn-out plans, but rather hackathons. For those of you who don’t know, hackathons are like a programmer’s version of brainstorming. Experienced programmers and novice coders come together and race against the clock for hours — often even days — to create something innovative, testing their skills and picking up new tools. There’s even a major league of hackathons.
More often than not, these hackathons are dominated by white cis men. But all-female hackathons like Maryland’s Technica, New York’s Monarq SheHacks, Berlin’s Geekettes, Philly’s LadyHacks, North Carolina’s Pearl Hacks and Dubai’s WiSTEM are critical to the future of the tech industry.
Here are 9 reasons why hackathons aimed at women and non-binary techies are desperately needed.
1. The tech industry is a virtual sausage fest.
Here’s a breakdown of where top tech companies reign in with gender and ethnicity in 2015. Most of our favorite companies come in about 70 percent male. Pandora is one of the only companies with a fairly even split between women and men. But companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram—our beloved social media companies—are all staggering at 30 percent female. At the same time, these companies are primarily white, with Asians coming in at around 30 percent, while Hispanic, black, and mixed-race people come in at low single digits.
2. Hackathons are how many tech innovations are created
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Like I said, they’re basically a programmer’s form of brainstorming. And what comes out of great brainstorming meetings? Great inventions! Hackathons are how many major tech inventions come to fruition, and hackathons for women and non-binary people are a way for them to create and really contribute to new technologies.
3. Variety in our tech world
If most of what comes out of the tech world is created by white cis men, then most of modern technology is geared toward white cis men. With women and non-binary people coming together in hackathons, they have the chance to develop and contribute to tech with different perspectives. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income people and LGBTQ+ people have different concerns, hopes, fears, interests and dreams than the upper-class white bros dominating in Silicon Valley.
4. Get all the business cards.
Hackathons are known not only for the innovations that come out of them but also for the people that you meet. Tech companies engage in heavy recruitment at hackathons, and in a time when they’re looking for more diverse talent, they’re eager to find more female coders. Companies look seriously at projects created during the hackathon to sniff out potential recruits, and they often issue interesting tech challenges – best use of hardware, best webapp, best scraping tool – to let the cream rise to the top. Take advantage of the incredible networking opportunities (and the freebies).
The next person you meet at a hackathon could become your new coworker or boss, so watch out. However, how will we change the dynamics of the tech world without meeting more women and gender non-conforming people? Through networking, we can meet and look out for each other.
5. Building safe spaces and strong communities
These hackathons create safe spaces for us to explore, develop, and grow outside of cis white male culture. A safe community is created without sexism, misogyny, or any type of prejudice. This is the type of work environment that these hackathons can provide with a much-needed break from the tech industry’s norm.
“By providing a safe and supportive environment at our hackathons, women from all backgrounds and experience levels can enjoy an accessible, approachable, positive experience,” Hack the Gap‘s site says. “They can focus on the project, without being one of a handful of women at the event. They don’t stand out as an ‘other.'”
6. Sharing knowledge
Perri(21) Payton(13) at Technica all-girl hackathon. Payton wants to be a video game engineer when she's older. pic.twitter.com/iIPuU8Fwou
— Morgan Eichensehr (@MEichensehr) November 7, 2015
In many situations, women do not receive the same level of respect that men do. This happens all the time, but it happens especially often in the business world, and in the tech world more specifically. But with all women hackathons, women could share their coding knowledge with each other, so they can grow and learn with each other. Teamwork and mentoring are major components of hackathons, so you can come away from a single day with a new network of techies to exchange ideas with.
7. Gain serious, hands-on experience
— Mandy Chan #GDC19 (@MandyChanNYC) November 10, 2015
Hackathons are one of the best ways to gain programming experience. Not only experience with the general coding language but complete follow through with physical (or in this case virtual) product. For newbie coders looking to break into the industry, they’re a great way to build your portfolio and expose yourself to new skills.
Hackathons can last to up to 36 hours. That high-pressure environment is the exact type of work and coding experience needed to make it in the industry, but when you’re without prejudice and systemic oppression, that helps you keep your eye on the prize with people who respect you.
8. Girls just wanna have fun
I know this may be a shock to some people, but coding is fun! Hackathons don’t always have to be serious and rigorous events. They can be fun-filled, enjoyable experiences, where women can do their favorite thing: code!
9. Changing the tech world
Change starts from the bottom, and in many ways, hackathons are the bottom. Even though companies such as Facebook and Google host their own, more exclusive hackathons, you can also find plenty of hackathons aimed at college students, high schoolers and newbies alike. Hackathons devoted to providing diverse women and non-binary people a place to learn and grow are the beginning of a complete overhaul of the tech world.