Why Hackathons Are for Everyone (Especially Women!)

Why Hackathons Are for Everyone (Especially Women!)

American scholar Brene Brown said, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” We explain belonging by the people we are related to, the clubs or organizations we’re affiliated with, the state we grew up in, or the school we attended. The minute we sign up for a new social media account, it asks us to fill in our profiles such as a short bio to better define ourselves:

  • “Marketing professional.”
  • “Dog lover.”
  • “Aspiring dancer.”

We string these words together to tell our stories. Simple, right? Wrong. If it was that easy, our palms wouldn’t sweat when asked, “So…tell me about yourself” at an interview or a date. The reason why we dread this question is not because we’re nervous but because 9 out of 10 we don’t know the answers to that question or we’re overthinking it by seeking for the right answer. We don’t know who we are exactly because we’re all work in process. Even if we have a slight clue, we’re worried if we fit in with the rest.

This is something that I’ve observed at almost every hackathon. To those who are not familiar, a hackathon is a weekend long programming competition where curious individuals get together to build websites, applications, and hardware hacks. Of course, less about the competition, more about the learning experience. What has been fascinating is that we’re all misfits in one way or another. At a hackathon, you’ll meet beginners, mentors, high schoolers, college (grad) students, computer science majors, and non-computer science majors. No standards. No expectations. A student at a hackathon said, “I made a web app but it’s not good enough so I’m not going to demo on stage.” A stranger on Twitter wrote (in response to my Medium blog post on being non-technical), “Even though hackathons are open to anyone, a lot of participants are technical. I’m just not sure how I’ll fit in.” These self doubts about not good enough and not fitting in are little monsters living in our heads. We can’t destroy them because they’ll always reappear — we all have self doubts about something! The best approach is to put these little monsters on a leash and take them for a walk (quoting Matthew Inman).

We learn more about ourselves every time we step out of our comfort zone. If you never had gelato or attend a hackathon for example, how would you know if you’ll pursue an interest as a gelato blogger or a hackathon organizer at your school? We all have to start from somewhere so tuck away your self doubts and tell the person in front of the mirror that he/she is awesome! The student that was hesitant about demoing, I watched him on the stage explaining his build-a-snowman web app. The stranger on Twitter, I told her, “Then don’t fit in. Just be you.”

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.