Diversity & Inclusion
Events / Hackathons / Tech, Rebalanced

Tech Lady Hackathon draws 300 women, many of whom participated for the first time

The organizing team talks about providing an entry point to the tech community, and paying speakers and others for the first time.

Tech Lady Hackathon organizers from left to right: Joy Whitt, Alexis Johnson-Gresham, Kate Rabinowitz, and Jess Garson (Photo by Julia Airey)
This article was updated at 1:11 p.m. on 10/25/17.

On Saturday, the fifth edition of the Tech Lady Hackathon hosted nearly 300 attendees at the Washington Post.

According to the team organizers, who we profiled earlier this month, there was a line out of the main event space at 9 a.m. At 9:30, organizer Jessica Garson noted that, “every table in the event space was filled and people were sitting on the floor.”

For organizer Joy Whitt, it was a simple measure of success: “Who gets up early on a Saturday?” she said.

After opening remarks at 9.30, attendees could choose to either attend workshops and discussions, or join a hacking group which worked to present a product at the end of the day.

To learn more, we sat down with the organizers in a loft-like discussion space where attendees milled between sessions and the taco bar was tantalizing close. When asked about their highlight of the day so far, the four organizers were unanimous.

“There’s a lot of symbiosis and the community making things better and building cool stuff,” said Garson. “We’re excited to be a part of people realizing what they can do for the first time.”

There were 15 workshops throughout the day, on a variety of tech skills (like implementing API, or building a game with javascript) and non-tech trainings (coping with depression). Running parallel were also 10 discussion groups on topics ranging from imposter syndrome, to working moms, to balancing side hustles.

One of the changes to this year’s hackathon, organizer Alexis Johnson-Gresham told us, was that they were able to pay their speakers, their media designer, and a photographer who took over 50 professional headshots.

“We want to be a model for other vendors,” said Garson, who cited the hard work it takes to travel and present at conferences, and the group’s commitment to supporting women in tech.


“I honestly nearly cried when I got that email [about pay],” said speaker and Tech Lady Hackathon veteran Ritika Bhasker.

Bhasker, who gave a workshop on data analysis with Panda, is now working to assemble more advanced tutorials for attendees because she said there was so much interest in her workshop. “Every single year [the Tech Lady Hackathon] isn’t just building on last year’s successes, it’s taking them to whole new levels,” she told us.

Organizer Alexis Johnson-Gresham. (Photo by Julia Airey)

Organizer Alexis Johnson-Gresham. (Photo by Julia Airey)

Before the day wrapped up with the hackathon presentations, we stopped to talk to two of the attendees.

“I really liked it,” said Jenny Fan, a multimedia specialist. “It’s my first hackathon.”

Another attendee, Tamina Chaowdhury who works as a consultant for the World Bank said it was also her first hackathon. She said that while some of the workshops were overwhelming, there was something for everyone. “[The workshop on] how to protect yourself online was very useful and relevant,” Chaowdhury told us.

According to Whitt, two-thirds of the attendees this year were first-time attendees of Tech Lady Hackathon and for most of them, it was also their first hackathon.

We’ve described before how providing a space of “firsts” for their attendees has long been a focus of Tech Lady Hackathon. Now it’s inspiring the organizers to want to expand those opportunities to more women.

“I’m experimenting with living in New York, and thinking of hosting more workshops there,” said Garson, who is now an adjunct professor at NYU.

“I will never relocate to New York,” replied Whitt, who laughed. And neither will the Tech Lady Hackathon, the organizers assured, although Garson admitted that, “We had a grand ambition of adding lots of hackathons in many cities at the same time.”

After the hack presentations, attendees drifted out to nearby Toro Toro bar for happy hour catch-ups.







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