You can't walk five feet in the San Francisco Bay Area without bumping into a hackathon. They come in all shapes and sizes: There's Hack//Meat for the sustainable agriculture enthusiasts, the Highground Hackathon for programmers with an interest in mental health, and even the FWD.us hackathon for undocumented immigrants (who will code alongside FWD.us mastermind Mark Zuckerberg).
But at almost every hackathon, women are under-represented. It's just one symptom of a seemingly intractable issue: Women still make up the minority of workers in science, technology, and engineering fields.
This is what sets apart DevelopHer, a hackathon that had more than 100 female participants this year. Organized by LinkedIn, DevelopHer is the only Silicon Valley hackathon that is exclusively for women.
Now in its second year, DevelopHer sprung out of LinkedIn's Hackdays, which bring engineers in cities across the country together for coding competitions. The first DevelopHer had about 70 participants--this year, the number jumped dramatically because the event (held October 25th and 26th) was timed to coincide with TechWomen, a U.S. State Department mentorship initiative that brings female STEM leaders from Africa and the Middle East to the U.S. A number of TechWomen participants joined in for DevelopHer, though none made it to the competition finals.
According to Florina Grosskurth, the organizer of DevelopHer and LinkedIn's manager of technical brand, culture, and innovation programs, the hackathon is made to be low-pressure--ideal for first-time hackathon participants (70% of this year's hackers had never participated in a hackathon before), and welcoming to programming beginners. The participants weren't required to create LinkedIn-related hacks, though two of the winners did use the LinkedIn API.
While the first prize winner--a platform that connects job seekers, recommenders, and job posters on LinkedIn--was created by a group of experienced developers, the second prize project came from a woman who was relatively new to programming, and the honorable mention was built by a group from Hackbright Academy, a 10-week software engineering program for women. The team, which had only been programming for three weeks when they entered DevelopHer, built a ridesharing platform for women that uses LinkedIn connections as an intermediary.
"The word 'hackathon' itself is kind of daunting," says Grosskurth. "For me as a developer, we all want to instill this idea that it's not this super secret society of people who can program. Anyone can do it. You just have to take little bites at a time."
DevelopHer is part of a larger infrastructure that's popping up to support female developers. In addition to LinkedIn's hackathon, there is the aforementioned Hackbright Academy, as well as programs for younger girls like Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code. "We support Hackbright, we hire from there," says Grosskurth. "We're realizing that we're all there to support each other."
Check out the DevelopHer finalists and winners here.