Hackathon models that draw in women
I had some off-blog responses to my post about women in hackathons. Here are a couple of them:
- Shriram Krishnamurthi sent me an article about Brown’s hackathon. It was 35% female, and all of the attendees said that they’d come back.
- Yasmin Kafai told me about StitchFest.org at Penn where they doubled the number of women attendees by including e-textiles.
These both look interesting and successful, in terms of drawing more women in. I’m still left with questions. Why do a large-number-of-hours hackfest/stitchfest at all? The Brown article does give a reason: to build community. I do believe that a sleepless all-nighter experience can build community. Are there other, maybe better ways?
Are these replicable models? Both of these examples are at Ivy League institutions. Both of these efforts had significant corporate sponsorship. The Brown hackathon had a professional engineer to work with almost every student group. Can other schools duplicate that draw? There are interventions that are easier at an Ivy League institution. The Harvard CS50 experience is absolutely amazing, but will Facebook sponsor pizza party coding sessions for every school in the US, and is Microsoft willing to host every school at the NERD Center? I know I’m at Georgia Tech, so I need to watch for being painted with the same brush. Not everything we do is easily replicated elsewhere. We explicitly design for replicability and measure it.
Maybe there is value in hackathons, and maybe it can even play a role in improving diversity in computing. Microsoft and Code.org are supporting hackathons for women. If we’re going to do this, we should articulate the desired value and role, design for it, and test to see if it’s happening. I’d rather not believe that hackathons are simply there, part of the new computing culture, and now we can only learn how to make them as not-awful as possible.