I spent a big chunk of the weekend at UNC for PearlHacks, a hackathon aimed specifically at high school & college women, regardless of previous programming experience.
It was really amazing. There was just so much exuberance coming from the (4-500) young women there, such a sense of open inquisitiveness. I love the idea that there may have been as many as 2-300 girls nudged more in the direction of careers in computing, thanks to one amazing weekend experience.
(Of course, if we don’t fix the culture problem in the tech industry, they’ll all be really disappointed when they finally graduate & get jobs – but on the other hand, the more gung-ho young women who enter the industry, fully unwilling to put up with any shit, the faster the culture will change. I hope.)
I’m normally pretty negative about hackathons. The basic premise is that teams of students get together, come up with ideas, and then spend 18-36 consecutive hours building quick [semi] working prototypes, which they demo at the end of the weekend. Prizes are generally awarded.
And then, near as I can tell, never touch again. Whenever I interview a student, if they have hackathons on their resume, I ask whether they’ve continued working on their hackathon projects. The answer is pretty much universally no.
So in a nutshell, then, hackathons are an opportunity to stay up all night slapping together half-working code, potentially win some sort of prize, and then immediately abandon the project. This tweet sums it up perfectly:
“Hackathons are LARPing the worst part of startups for a weekend.” –@_danilo
— Nicole Sanchez (@nmsanchez) March 8, 2015
But PearlHacks was different, in part because it was aimed partially at non-programmers, so there were a lot of structured activities for students who didn’t feel up to hacking on a project.
I still wish I could believe that even one or two of the 63 projects were going to persist past the weekend, though.
But it was rewarding enough to see a team of high school girls win a prize for a side-scrolling game in which an intrepid young woman has to leap over Chlamydia cells and grab flying condoms to earn points.
Sunday night we watched Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. What an amazing exhausting experience. I had never seen it before, although I read the Autobiography in high school, and it made enough of an impression on me that I was able to tell that the movie stuck pretty close to the story as told in the book.
The cinematography, staging, costume design – the dance numbers – just the overall dizzying sensation of the first hour was the perfect destabilizing setup for all that followed in the second and third hours. What an epic story. Highly recommended.
The rest of this week thus far has just been the typical late-March stress rollercoaster of extending offers to students and then waiting to see whether they accept or not. Oh, and most of a day wasted at the Honda dealership waiting for them to install a part that should have only taken 10 minutes. Spoiler alert: They didn’t actually install it, so I get to go back.