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How FemmeHacks inspired 200 women to keep pursuing tech careers

It was the biggest year yet for the all-women hackathon for college students. Organizer Andrea Baric explains the event's thoughtful intentionality. (Maybe others could take note.)

Participants at FemmeHacks 2017. (Photo via FemmeHacks Facebook page)
This is a guest post by FemmeHacks organizer Andrea Baric.

I was frustrated my freshman year.

It was hard to find a group of women in computer science to form study groups with or to chat with about some of the daily challenges we faced in a mostly male environment — the fact that there might sometimes be more Daves than women in our computing design class.

I heard about PennApps (Penn’s bi-annual hackathon) happening down the street, and overcame my severe imposter syndrome for just a few hours to apply and get in. I went and wished that I had gotten a lot more sleep, saw fewer people in a Red Bull stupor and had T-shirts at swag tables that actually fit me. Why did the East Coast, and even the country in general, have events that often intimidated minorities in participating in them? It’s why I started FemmeHacks, Philly’s first all-women* hackathon for college students (our asterisk refers to any woman-identifying person regardless of sexuality, ability, race, age, etc.).

By 2017, the event has expanded exponentially.

From an organizing team of one to now over 20, and from 30 hackers to over 200, FemmeHacks has had a huge growth spurt since its birth in 2015 — for a few key reasons. For one, hackathons for women-identifying folks have exploded in the past year as the search for more diversity in tech has become more urgent.

FemmeHacks hackers at the event's opening ceremony.

FemmeHacks hackers at the event’s opening ceremony. (Photo via FemmeHacks Facebook page)

The only other major all-women hackathon for college students in the country at the time was Pearl Hacks at UNC. Second, the organizing team has set a precedent for a culture change in hackathons and tech in general. FemmeHacks is not an overnight hackathon, as we want to make sure our hackers are engaged the whole day. We stand by our inclusive language of using the term “all women” to include students who are straight, gay, trans and non-cis women. We make sure we have nutritious (yet delicious!) food and snacks (like made-to-order juices), women-fitted swag and a completely beginner-friendly environment.

The hacker experience is something we keep in mind every time we make decisions. Last, our goal was to create camaraderie amongst participants by holding all sorts of fun side events like an industry “adult” panel, a photobooth and a mason-jar-decorating “craft corner” to introduce conversations outside of code.

This year, we held the main event on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Penn’s Pennovation Center, a startup incubator and event space that opened last fall. All of our beginner and intermediate workshops, team formation session and out-the-door line for Chipotle dinner on Friday night were at Penn Engineering. Companies ranging from Facebook to Jane Street to the New York Times brought 30+ women* mentors from across the country to offer a 6:1 student to engineer ratio for anyone seeking project help. Our 198 hackers represented 27 high schools, 10 colleges/universities schools and 92 percent of them felt inspired to keep pursuing tech or CS as a career after FemmeHacks. That’s what it’s all about.

Here’s an infographic we made:

FemmeHacks infographic.

Some of the coolest projects we saw?

Best Overall:

  • Morse Decoder, a hardware project that translated between English and morse code using an Intel Edison

Honorable Mention:

  • Philly-Phestivities, a community calendar that aggregates listings from other Philly news and events sites in one place

Best Beginner Hack:

  • CodingMentorship, a website/chatroom that connects students to mentors working in tech already

Best Philly Hack:

  • An Android app connecting nonprofits with volunteers for service opportunities in Philadelphia

FemmeHacks is over this year, but not for too long. We’ll start up organizing again later this spring, ready to bring back another awesome weekend of feel-good learning activities and great vibes for the inspiring Philadelphia women in tech. Check us out — femmehacks.io or facebook.com/femmehacks for pictures!

Companies: Pennovation Center / University of Pennsylvania

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