Hacking the Gender Gap With Creative Coding

Hackathons are mostly attended by men. Male-to-female ratios at these marathon creative coding and making events are often as low as 15:1, and if organizers hit 20 percent women, it’s a win. The goal of T9Hacks was to turn that around—to create a hackathon that was majority female and, at the same time, initiate as many women as possible into the creative world of coding.

They succeeded on both counts. Organized by CU students, T9Hacks drew 110 mostly college students, 60 percent of whom were women, and 63 percent of whom had never attended a hackathon.

The 24-hour event began at noon on Saturday, February 25 at the ATLAS Institute. Working in teams, participants programmed and built creative software projects ranging from music-generated knitting patterns to an online platform where women could blog anonymously about workplace harassment.

“Women occupy only 26 percent of IT positions and 18 percent of engineering majors in universities,” said Aileen Pierce, faculty advisor to the event and associate director of the ATLAS Institute’s Technology, Arts and Media (TAM) program. “Normally women make up less than 30 percent of those taking computer science classes,” she said. “We want to raise those numbers.”

For some, T9Hacks was an opportunity to attend their first hackathon, for others, it was a chance to venture out and try new technology. “I wasn’t experienced in Unity, so I decided to use T9Hacks to learn it,” said Cicada Scott, a computer science major minoring in technology, arts, and media. “I wanted to test Unity out and see what others were talking about.” Their team created a virtual reality puzzle game.

In addition to lead sponsorship from ATLAS, the event received major support from Workday, MapQuest and Trimble. Sponsorship was also given by Zayo Group, eGauge Systems, LogRhythm, Google, Twitter, DigiZen Marketing Group and ThinkTopic.

To ensure a high women-to-men ratio, organizers used the Sadie Hawkin’s approach—once women registered for the event, they could then invite a man if they wished.

“At T9Hacks you can calmly learn instead of competing,” said Monica Chairez, a freshman majoring in computer science, whose team turned parabolic equations into graphs and artful images.