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Events / Guest posts / Hackathons / Women in tech

This weekend: LadyHacks, Philadelphia’s first women-only hackathon, is back

Organizer Kelsey Leljedal on why the event is so important to her.

At LadyHacks. (Courtesy photo)
This is a guest post by Kelsey Leljedal.

I don’t recall when I first heard that Philadelphia was going to have a hackathon exclusively for women*, but it was not long after I had participated in my first (co-ed) hackathon. The tech world has not always been welcoming to women and hackathons are no different, so when I heard there was a committee forming to put together a local women-only hackathon for International Women’s Day, I wanted to help.

My initial role was creating the LadyHacks logo and color palette. Bouncing ideas off of the other organizers as we planned and promoted the event was great but actually participating in the 2013 hackathon itself was even better. I became the logo designer on a team that created She Tech Philly, a site on events and news for women* in tech in Philly. My teammates are still my friends, including LeeAnn Kinney, who has also helped organize LadyHacks since 2015.

Tristin Hightower came up with the idea of LadyHacks so that women* would have a space of their own to hack when none had existed in Philadelphia at the time. By the second year, Tristin had moved across the country so her co-creator Sondra Willhite led the hackathon and did a fantastic job. Ever since the first year, I have been on the LadyHacks planning committee and in 2015 served as the lead organizer with outstanding and supportive committee members. For 2017, we are a smaller group consisting of Liz Brown, Alex Lash, Laura Webb, LeeAnn and myself, but we work really well together and are making this year as fun as possible. As hackers of past LadyHacks, we believe in the mission to welcome women* of all experience levels from a variety of technical and creative disciplines to participate in a collaborative, web-based project in an inclusive and safe space. It’s a lot of work to plan the event but in the end seeing everyone working together and presenting amazing solutions is inspirational.

We want LadyHacks to be inclusive for women to pitch their ideas, form and collaborate on a team and solve a problem using technology. We acknowledge the complicated nature of the word “women,” knowing it may not work for many and can feel unwelcoming or alienating for some. We recognize the imperfection of language, and we use * to specifically and intentionally include cis women, trans, non-binary, agender, intersex and queer people and we encourage attendees to let us know their preferred pronoun. Since so many hackathons are male-dominated and can run all hours throughout an entire weekend, it can get intimidating for a woman* to participate in one. Our event is Friday evening and most of the day on Saturday though is not an overnight event to accommodate for family time. We ask attendees if they have any dietary restrictions so we can also accommodate those with the food we provide and we have mentors who currently work in tech should a team need some guidance for their project. Plus, this year’s proceeds will support education nonprofit Girl Develop It.

LadyHacks welcomes women* of all experience levels from a variety of technical and creative disciplines to participate whether they are tech professionals, have taken a few classes or are just curious on how their skills can apply. Past LadyHacks attendees have gone on to participate in other hackathons like Hack4Access, NASA’s SpaceApps and StartUp Weekend Philadelphia Health.

LadyHacks really boosts your confidence when it proves you can start the weekend with the germ of an idea then create a completely new solution with your knowledge and a great group of women*. Interesting projects from the past have included Puppy Powers (to match you with puppies Tinder-style), Collective Comment Moderation (to allow like-minded bloggers to moderate one another’s comments and take appropriate action if confronted with hostile/threatening ones), and RentSafe (an open source web app that maps crime and property listings together). This year LadyHacks’ theme is strength and we can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

Of course, we couldn’t have LadyHacks without the help of our incredible mentors, volunteers, or this year’s sponsors Azavea, Delphic Digital, Seer Interactive, Monetate, WebJunto, ROAR for Good, Nuix, PromptWorks and Ticketleap. If you cannot attend this year, definitely follow #LadyHacks2017 on Twitter this weekend or check out to see when we will have next year’s hackathon or how you can get involved in the future.

LadyHacks 2017 will take place Friday, May 12 from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, May 13 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Azavea’s office at 990 Spring Garden Street.


Happy hacking!

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