Leah Bannon, Tech Lady Hackathon and DC's community of women coders - Technical.ly DC

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Aug. 12, 2015 12:41 pm

Leah Bannon, Tech Lady Hackathon and DC’s community of women coders

The Code for DC co-captain created Tech Lady Hackathon after finding a sense of belonging through the women-in-tech scene here. For the hackathon's third year, 170 women showed up to get involved.
Tech Lady Hackathon, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015.

Tech Lady Hackathon, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015.

(Photo by Lalita Clozel)

On Saturday, 170 women milled about Impact Hub DC in Chinatown for the third Tech Lady Hackathon.

But instead of competing for a prize, participants spent the day attending workshops, networking and collaborating on eight different civic tech projects.

And that’s the point: When founder Leah Bannon organized the first Tech Lady Hackathon in December 2013, she had just overcome her own reservations about being a technologist, and she wanted to help other women feel like they belonged.

“I always thought like I wasn’t really tech enough,” Bannon said. “Coding was something you had to learn from undergrad.” Instead, she viewed herself more as a social media type.

Those sentiments weren’t just in her head. “My ex told me I wouldn’t be good at coding because I get frustrated easily,” she said.

Bannon began her journey into the tech world as a federal contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton. Surrounded by “the kind of people who [were] exhausted by the idea of a new app,” she felt uninspired. “I didn’t really like my job,” she said.

So she began exploring various tech meetup groups, including Code for DC, of which she is now a co-captain. She even once organized a hackathon for bored government workers on furlough.

Still, Bannon found there was something big missing. “It was so, so male-dominated,” she said.

In August 2013, she attended a brunch with the Tech LadyMafia — a wildly popular email listserv started by a local digital media strategist Aminatou Sow — who is now at Google — and Erie Meyer, who currently works in the White House’s U.S. Digital Service.

Bannon easily clicked with the group. “I made 10 friends that day,” she said. “It was a watershed moment in my life.”

Soon enough, she joined Shannon Turner’s free beginner Python courses. She was one of the original “four women … around the kitchen table” at Hear Me Code’s first class in September 2013.

Then, Bannon came up with her own project — one that drew strong enthusiasm from her women-in-tech pals.

“I wanted to trade off the cachet of ‘hackathon,'” she said, while getting women “comfortable with the idea of going to a hackathon.”

So she threw introductory coding classes into the mix as a “gateway drug” for beginners, she said. She also organized pre-parties at Mapbox for networking. And post-hackathon happy hours. And sometimes, as in this Saturday, an after-after.

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