Tag Archives: hackathon

Learning How to Hack in a Bro’s World: A Women’s College Student Perspective

A skewed image of the interior of a building with interior brick walls, concrete catwalks, and stone staircases

Image courtesy of Cali Stenson.

This is a guest post from Cali Stenson and Karina Chan. Cali Stenson is a sophomore at Wellesley College majoring in computer science and minoring in math. She’s the co-hack chair of Wellesley’s Computer Science Club, a member of the Wellesley Whiptails Ultimate Frisbee team, and an avid believer in learning and sharing knowledge with others. Karina Chan is a junior at Wellesley College. She is majoring in Computer Science and minoring in math. She tweets all things technology and cat related.

The first hackathon we went to was PennApps over Valentine’s weekend in February of 2014. We thought it sounded really fun; who doesn’t want to spend their weekend making a cool app or website?

It wasn’t exactly what we expected. Hackathons are glorified as centers where people build life-changing and legendary projects; however, most of the students at PennApps seemed to just end up tired, dirty, and a little defeated. What went wrong? Is it the perpetuation of the no sleep/shower/brogrammer stereotype? We do know that we were two of the few women within an entire group of 1,200 hackers.

We didn’t have a great time, but we learned something. We found ourselves in an environment that unconsciously shuts women out, and even worse, women who are beginning hackers. We felt like we did not belong; we could not possibly be competent enough to compete with the guys who seemed so much better than us with their aggressive energy drinking and loud bragging. Not to mention, some unconscious aversion to showering. There is no moment where you have more impostor syndrome than when you meet brogrammer after brogrammer with a successful app/gadget at the end of a hackathon where you did not even get a basic website up.

This might seem like a surface-level and exaggerated assessment, but from what we’ve seen, getting that feeling of acceptance at a hackathon needs to begin at the ground level as well as the top level. Even with the plentiful conversation flowing about gender inequality in tech and the beginning of forced gender ratios at hackathons, it is important to change the “brogrammer” culture of hackathons. One of the major problems for women interested in hackathons is that it is intimidating to throw yourself into an unfamiliar environment, only to feel different and rejected. Why is this even a problem? In its purest definition, hackathons are havens where people who like to build things have time to build things. Impostor syndrome is distracting and needs to be addressed based on what women are looking for in hackathons and on how teams interact with one another. Are the needs of women different from men? How do we appeal to both audiences? Hackathons should foster an environment friendly to all skill levels and all people that encourages learning for the sake of it, and this is should be enforced not just by creating a magic ratio, but by changing how the internal culture is run.

Over the weekend of April 17-19th, Wellesley College’s CS club along with a group of CS students at Simmons College will be hosting a hackathon that aims to change the internal culture. We want to create a pure space that supports learning and developing while also creating opportunities for networking with current members of industry, i.e. alumnae of Wellesley college and professionals in the Boston area. We’re focusing on the target audience of undergraduate women in CS (will not exclude men), and we encourage students who do not thrive in the typical hackathon environment to come learn to hack with us. Our aim is to focus on the ground up and to address these questions: how do we get women to participate in the hackathon scene, and how do we get women (+ men!) to stay?

Editor’s note: For more information on attending the hackathon, sponsoring the hackathon, or being a mentor, please fill out this contact form, which sends email directly to the Wellesley CS Club.

Goto Considered Linkspam (11 Oct 2013)

  • The DNA of a Geek Feminist | Being Geek Chic: “So I’ve been thinking a lot more recently, about where these two geeks intersect: the one who loves Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland and American Gods, and the one who is passionate about battling sexism on tech teams and harassment at tech conventions.”
  • I Am So Very Tired | foz meadows: “I am tired, not of arguing in favour of equality, diversity and tolerance, but of having to explain, over and over and over again, why such arguments are still necessary, only to have my evidence casually dismissed by someone too oblivious to realise that their dismissal of the problem is itself a textbook example of the fucking problem.”
  • Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? | New York Times: “I was taken aback by his (Lawrence Summers) suggestion that the problem might have something to do with biological inequalities between the sexes, but as I read the heated responses to his comments, I realized that even I wasn’t sure why so many women were still giving up on physics and math before completing advanced degrees.”
  • IBM’s Plea for Gender Parity … in an Ad From 1985 | The Atlantic: “It isn’t, actually, terribly dated. It feels, actually, quite contemporary. It’s for IBM, one of those pitching-products-without-actually-pitching-products kinds of ads, and it complains about a problem that is just as relevant today as it was in 1985: the dearth of women in engineering jobs.”
  • How Carnegie Mellon Created a More Inclusive Hackathon | Amy Quispe: “Hackathons don’t need to be about shiny webapps; we wanted to enable students to experiment with other areas of computer science. We worked to have a technically diverse mentorship staff, gave out prizes not for API use, but for categories like “Best User Interface” and “Best Hack for Hack’s Sake” and “First Penguin” (biggest risk), and had judges that could discern the technical difficulty of a project.”
  • Uptalk and Impostor Syndrome | This Ain’t Living’: “Do you talk differently with your doctor, a group of friends at a restaurant, your students, your coworkers? You likely do, even if you aren’t making a conscious choice to do so. Speech is how we fit ourselves into social roles, marking membership within a community, projecting dominance, asserting confidence, deferring to people whom we think of as senior.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A group photo of about 30 people, with the banner "trans* hackers code it better" in front

Trans*H4ck 1.0 – Trans* coders make (their own) history

This is a guest post by Naomi Ceder, who has been active in the Linux and Python communities since… well… for a long time. She has taught programming and Python online, in high schools, at Linux Fests, and in the Chicago Python Workshop, and is the author of The Quick Python Book, 2nd ed. from Manning Publications. She is vastly relieved to have finally transitioned to female after half a lifetime stuck “undercover as a man”. She speaks and blogs both about Python and about her experiences with gender transition in the tech community.

In mid-September of 2013 in a small art gallery in Oakland, something wildly improbable (to say the least) happened. Some 40 people – trans*, gender variant, queer, cisgender – came together for Trans*H4ck, the very first hackathon dedicated to helping the trans* community. Hackathons for various causes are common enough these days, but for many of us Trans*H4ck was truly special – in spite of trans* people being relatively common (if you can use the word “common” for us at all) in the tech community, there had never before been a hackathon devoted to trans* issues. Not one.

[Author’s note: trans* is used with the intention of including gender variant and gender queer. I know that’s not ideal, but it does make things less cumbersome to type and read.]

A banner with the text "Trans*H4CK Oakland"

TransHack banner

On the evening of September 13, under the leadership and vision of Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler (one of the inaugural Trans 100) that changed. The first evening was spent getting acquainted with the some of the issues and with each other. Janet Mock, Sarah Prager (of Quist App), and Micha Cardenas spoke via Google hangouts and Kortney briefly recapped some of the all too depressing statistics relating to being trans* – high rates of unemployment, homelessness, violence, and suicide and low rates of income, access to health care, and basic human rights.

We all introduced ourselves and spoke of our backgrounds, our goals for the hackathon, and, yes, our preferred pronouns. It was clearly the first time some of the cisgender folks had ever been asked that particular question.

By the end of the evening teams had formed and work continued on through the night and into the next day, when things paused at noon for a panel discussing being trans* in tech, featuring Enne Walker, Dana McCallum, Naomi Ceder (me), Jack Aponte, and Nadia Morris and moderated by Fresh! White. The discussion ranged from using open source projects and GitHub to build a professional portfolio to finding a champion at work to how to take care of yourself in the face of the inevitable stress.

After the panel, the hacking resumed and the teams sprinted towards a submission deadline of noon on Sunday, with the demos and judging to follow.

The judging and exhibition took place at the New Parkway, which is a cross between a theater and the coolest family room ever. The judges were Monica “The Transgriot” Roberts, Erin Armstrong, and Benji Delgadillo. Even having seen the projects in development I found the presentations impressive, and ones I’m looking forward to using as they gain traction. The winners were:

In first place, Trans*ResourceUS, an ambitious effort by the largest team. Trans*ResourceUS is a user editable database of services for trans* people – giving location aware listings for health care, mental health, social, restrooms, employment and housing resources. Right now the submitter is the only one allowed to enter ratings on things like accessibility and trans friendliness, but that is slated to change. One very cool thing about this service is that it is also accessible via SMS on a flip phone, so even users with limited resources can take advantage.

The second place winner was Dottify.me, a social micro survey site. Here the idea is that to collect any reliable information on trans* people it needs to be both very easy to interact with and preserve anonymity as much as possible. Dottify.me does this by collecting only a zip code for now and the displaying that zip code as a pin placed at a random spot in the zip code on a map. Future enhancements are planned.

Third place went to the Trans Health Access Wiki, a wiki to collect information on how to take the fullest advantage of the health coverages available and mandated for trans* people, state by state. While it is starting with California, Oregon and Vermont, the creator (a one-woman team at the hackathon) is already working on expanding it.

A couple of the other very cool projects created at Trans*H4ck were Know Your Transgender Rights an interactive map of trans* rights in all 50 states and ClothesR4ck (still in development) a clothing exchange aimed at helping people get quality used clothing to trans* people going through transition who might not be able to afford it.

What Trans*H4ck means to us

The apps and content marshaled during Trans*h4ck were pretty amazing for such a small group of people in just a little more than 36 hours. That all of the efforts were so immediately useful speaks both to the developers’ vision and skills as well as to the lack of digital resources for the the trans* community. Those few teams in those few hours have probably advanced trans* friendly resources by years.

But the outstanding thing about Trans*H4ck to those of us who were there was not the applications, as useful as they are, so much as the community spirit of the weekend. Even though we were from all across the gender spectrum, of different ages and backgrounds, and even (gasp!) preferred different programming languages, there was a true sense of cooperation instead of competition, and an atmosphere of acceptance, support, and affirmation.

For many of us it was a rare respite from feeling different and alone and a special chance to stand together as a community and take action to help our own. For all of us it was a precious moment of unity and, corny as it may sound, joy.

So was Trans*H4ck a success? As one hacker put it, “we did, we can, and we will make history.” Indeed.

A group photo of about 30 people, with the banner "trans* hackers code it better" in front

This is what a community of trans* hackers looks like.

For more information on Trans*H4ck, see the Trans*H4ck home page or look on Twitter or Facebook for the #transh4ck hashtag or contact the author.

The Linkspam is Coming from Inside the House (27 May 2013)

  • We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative: “Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things.”
  • Google+ What’s Hot Serves Based On Gender: “I get that WH algorithms are based on what people click, like, share, comment on, etc. Fine. But I challenge anyone to give me one good reason why there should be such a drastic difference in less than ten seconds by simply changing my gender, other than institutionalized sexism about what girls and guys apparently like.”
  • Mapping the Geology of Skyrim: “What I now aim to do is open this project up a bit to other geologists out there who I know are interested in mapping Skyrim. I would like to call on your expertise to come up with hypotheses about the geological evolution of Skyrim.”
  • The Business Case Against Booth Babes: “But the booth babe approach overlooks the essential connections brands need to make with their customers–for many brands, a group that is mostly and increasingly women–and the subsequent need to develop a culture that includes women as part of the conversation.”
  • Come here and work on hard problems, except the ones on our doorstep: The San Francisco startup scene and wealth disparity.
  • Dear Learn to Code Startup, an open letter from a computer science teacher. “[I]f you really want kids to learn to code […], then don’t make yet another tool or start yet another class that’s separate from your nearby school.” What follows is some good practical advice on how to help way more children learn to code.
  • No, you’re not entitled to your opinion. “The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned.”
  • Why Do Men Keep Putting Me in the Girlfriend-Zone?: “But then, then comes the fateful moment where you find out that all this time, he’s only seen you as a potential girlfriend.”
  • Meet the Woman Behind Pakistan’s First Hackathon: “Last month,the café hosted Pakistan’s first hackathon, a weekend-long event with nine teams focusing on solutions to civic problems in Pakistan ahead of last Saturday’s national election.”
  • Girl Expelled For Science Experiment Going To Space Camp: Not an entirely happy ending, but certainly a hopeful one.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

I’m pro-linkspam and I vote (3 May 2013)

  • Can Videogames Teach Us About Race? “The conversation has moved beyond simply arguing for less revealing clothing and “more agency” for fictional women, towards dissecting a paradigm shift for the entire industry, highlighting the role of women as both consumers and producers of videogames. And while anyone at least casually interested in social equity will no doubt find this thrilling, the conversation is overwhelmingly white, with all these calls for industry-wide changes in favor of equal representation completely omitting race.”
  • Super Ladies: Missing Why not show female superheroes in ensemble shots??
  • Women Genre Authors Much Less Likely to Get Reviewed: “So, basically, there are tons of female sci-fi authors out there, but they’re not getting nearly the same coverage as their male counterparts.”
  • 30 Days Of Sexism: “From March 7 – April 7, I documented everything blatantly sexist anyone has said to me. None of these comments were provoked, none of them were replies to something I said, none of them were at all out of the ordinary and the vast majority of them (an original count of 77 images) have been taken out so that this post isn’t as long as it probably should be. This is a 10-picture indication of what it’s like to be a woman who endorses game culture, every single month.”
  • [TW: Harassment]Consent & Consequence at Cons: An Alliterative Appeal to Acknowledgement “You are not responsible for another person’s choices.”
  • Women in Science and Engineering (Boston): Jun 24-25, 2013: “Our goal is to help scientists and engineers become more productive by teaching them basic computing skills like program design, version control, testing, and task automation.”
  • White Men Wearing Google Glass: Making a point about who does (and, by omission) doesn’t worry about a collaborative panopticon?
  • This Is What The Next Generation Of Programmers Looks Like: “As sophomores in high school, none of the girls have made a decision about whether or not they want to pursue computer science careers. But if app building appears as accessible to others of their generation as it does to them, the future of programming looks very bright.”
  • 17 year old girl wins hackathon: “Let’s focus on how one teenage girl, Jennie Lamere, defeated a room full of smart, motivated, experienced, full-grown men. This would seem to be instructive to the greater argument about women in technology, and besides, it has the added bonus of being based in fact rather than opinion.”
  • What’s missing from the media discussions of Wikipedia categories and sexism: “It’s not always the case, but in this instance the system worked. Filipacchi saw something on Wikipedia that she thought was wrong. She drew attention to it. Now it’s being discussed and fixed. That’s how Wikipedia works.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The word LINKS spelt out in clips (safety pins)

Where the Wild Linkspam Are (25th May, 2012)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Featured Image Credit: ‘Links by Clips’ by RambergMediaImages (Keith Ramsey) on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)