Germany’s first all-women Hackathon – by Berlin Geekettes

This weekend, right after MWC13, I went to Germany’s first all-women hackathon, organized by Berlin Geekettes (in Berlin). The event was invite only, and I was one of the +100 women – yes, +100 women – who attended and spent the weekend hacking. You can see pictures summing up the event at http://bghackathon.tumblr.com/. I served as UX and designer consultant for two teams, and one of the teams came in 4th! Full details of this amazing experience bellow:

Berlin Geekettes started one year ago, founded by Jess Erickson, and in just one year managed to form a network of +400 women connected to technology, from developers, designers, to entrepreneurs and angel investors. The team was approached and invited to Google, Facebook and other companies, to present the group and talk about their experience. The main team is formed of 4 other women, including an events manager, a technical ambassador, an evangelist and an official photographer/designer. The website is http://berlingeekettes.com/, but it will be changed soon from a Tumblr based to a full CMS page.

The Hackathon was attended by more than 100 women. This is a remarkable number even for those who are active in female oriented online groups and know how many women are active but avoid regular events for a number of reasons. The absolutely majority was developers of web applications, very few C developers. I didn’t count how many ideas were pitched, but in the end 28 projects were finalized and demoed. The event was sponsored and hosted by Deutsche Telekom, which provided space, flawless internet access and technical support; SoundCloud, sponsoring meals, prizes and having engineers to support the apps development; Uber, a car service who offered every participant one free ride anywhere and anytime; plus 15 smaller sponsorships, several with onsite engineers to support the developers. Facebook wanted to be there but double booked, so they send a video message specially recorded for the event. The Hackathon ran officially for 24hs, with extra activities expanding the event to a total of 48hs.

The difference from the regular hackathon, besides being an all-women event, was the inclusion of a yoga stretching room, where a volunteer ran 10min sessions during the 24hs to help developers to take a break; real food, delicious, organic, provided by an independent chef; a crafts room, where Etsy helped developers to craft their mascot; the sponsorship of a car service company to give everyone the sense of safety and freedom to hack as long as they wanted, and 2 little kids supporting their respective moms during demo time. Besides that, was everything like any other hackathon, obsessive hackers coding away, groups collaborating, arguing, supporting each other.

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The projects were posted using Hacker League website, and can be seen here https://www.hackerleague.org/hackathons/berlin-geekettes-hackathon/hacks . I participated in Journey Mix, a tool for finding tracks for long activities (the idea started to be pitched with “I used to go clubbing a lot. Now I go running a lot, but I miss the DJs”); and Bikeable Sounds, basically plotting your playlist into your bike path map. Both were using SoundCloud service. Journey Mix got the 4th place, and it’s live at http://alihaberfield.com/journeymix/docs/index.html. The first prizes went to Monkey See Monkey Do (1sthttp://youtu.be/Remm9SjorfY - helping children to understand their schedule); Life in Music (2ndhttp://www.lifeinmusic.net/); and Sound Pairs (3rdhttp://www.speedspiration.com/soundpairs/index.html, another educational tool for teaching sounds to children). My other favourite idea was the Urban Sound Archive, Mood Swings, Wonder Belt and Flip It.

It was an overwhelming experience to find myself with so many female hackers, and I think we were all in this same state of wonderment. But as for reflections on the developer scene, I noted a few important insights:

-       many web developers are just doing HTML5 without any fuss about it. We just did, without calling it HTML5, most of the time it was called JavaScript/CSS programming.

-       two of the most cheered demos, that got the crowd excited, were about sensors. The Wonder Belt used tapping to play Tetris, and the LeapPlay, using the LeapMotion sensor device to play music.

-       having a common objective and appropriate tools made us all go miles this weekend. I learned tons of CSS, my colleagues learned tons about API programming, SoundCloud learned a lot about bugs in their API, and everybody went further than they imagine. I saw one of my colleagues doing this face many times during the time there http://thejoysofcode.com/post/43971443267/when-i-accidentally-fix-a-huge-bug-with-a-single-line

-       having a UX knowledge can really save tons of time from developers. I helped them to think about the objectives, similarities and differences into 3 projects thinking of merging, ending up in two different projects. Ideas about what should be shown, should be hidden, should be featured, presented and in what order helped the developers to focus and achieve a lot more than if they had to test every option.

There are some talks for expanding Berlin Geekettes, and one of the first chapters will be Munich Geekettes, supported by this happy hacker-turned-designer-over-the-weekend reporter. Now if you excuse me, I will crash again because this week was amazing, but I need to recharge.

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