Innovating for the future: second annual International Women’s Hackathon
In a blog last week, I alluded to an important upcoming announcement. Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!
We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing.
The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women.
As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:
- Male classmates underestimate their technical abilities and relegate them to project management roles in group projects.
- There is a lack of women on the computer science faculty, which leaves them feeling that they have no good role models.
- They question whether they can fulfill their desire to solve big challenges by working in a field that seems to discount their talents.
This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members:
- Halie Murray-Davis, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
- Jinisha Patel, New Jersey Institute of Technology
- Safia Abdalla, Northside College Preparatory High School
- Ashika Ganesh, West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
- Aishwarya Borkar, San Jose State University
- Diem-Nhi Tran, University of Texas at Dallas
- Heather Huynh, University of Georgia
- Kylie Moden, Trinity University
- Nishtha Oberai, University of Colorado at Boulder
- Veronica Wharton, Rochester Institute of Technology
The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.
We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving.
I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world.
I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections