Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tech Lady Hackathon and NE Wisconsin’s Community of Women Coders

Today’s civic hacking post was inspired by reading “Leah Bannon, Tech Lady Hackathon and DC’s community of women coders” and by in-person and email discussions I’ve had in the past six weeks with ‘tech women.’ The article about Leah Bannon highlights a few points about her journey in women-in-tech activities.
“...When founder Leah Bannon organized the first Tech Lady Hackathon in December 2013, she had just overcome her own reservations about being a technologist, and she wanted to help other women feel like they belonged. “I always thought like I wasn’t really tech enough,” Bannon said... 
Bannon began her journey into the tech world as a federal contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton...“I didn’t really like my job,” she said. So she began exploring various tech meetup groups, including Code for DC, of which she is now a co-captain... 
In August 2013, she attended a brunch with the Tech LadyMafia — a wildly popular email listserv...Bannon easily clicked with the group. “I made 10 friends that day,” she said. “It was a watershed moment in my life.” 
Soon enough, she joined Shannon Turner’s free beginner Python courses. She was one of the original “four women...around the kitchen table” at Hear Me Code’s first class in September 2013...”
If you want to read a little more about Leah, check out her Nextgov profile article.

Some of the points in this post may not seem directly relevant to civic hacking, but it’s my belief that when we expand and strengthen the tech community and the TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) in NE Wisconsin, we’re also expanding and strengthening the civic hacking community of the region. And by helping connect the region’s women involved in technology, we’re expanding the civic hacking and TIME communities.

The gender disparity in tech (politically correct way to say ‘not very many women in tech’) is a fairly well recognized and publicized issue in 2015. There are many reasons why it’s a bad thing to have women be such a low percentage of the people participating in technology fields and in civic hacking, but the purpose of this post isn’t to explain why it’s bad or why the percentage is low. If you want to know more about the ‘why’ of those two issues, a Google search will give you thousands or millions of hits for those topics, depending on your search terms. The purpose of this post is to suggest a few ways NE Wisconsin women might consider becoming more involved in tech activities throughout the region (not just the city they live in).

Most of the items below came directly from online articles about Leah Bannon, or are related to points in those articles. If the following fourteen aren’t enough for you, I’d got 100 more where those came from...

  1. Tech Lady Hackathon was initiated by one persistent person -- Leah Bannon. If there’s an unmet market need for a similar activity in NE Wisconsin, it’s worth one person’s time and energy to organize a similar here. Best result is that the hackathon is a rousing success and continues as an annual event for at least several years, or maybe many years. Worst case is that the people involved with organizing the event will have fun and will build a few new relationships.
  2. You don’t have to be a ninja coder, or even a coder, to get involved with technology or with civic hacking. When Leah Bannon started getting involved with tech activities, she didn’t feel “tech enough.” She even had her ex tell her she wouldn’t be good at coding, and her college degree was in geography. According to one article, she started teaching herself code when she was writing blog posts and wanted the webpage look different than the default settings allowed. She taught herself HTML (hypertext markup language), and was able to tweak the way her blog posts looked. Women in NE Wisconsin can follow the same path Leah did for learning to code and getting involved with or leading tech activities. She points out you don’t have to already be in tech to go to tech activities. “A lot of people think a tech meetup is for people who are already in tech. [But it’s] one of the best ways to learn the jargon and learn what’s going on and what’s interesting.” If you don't know of any tech events, consider participating in BarCamp Green Bay on November 7 (it's free, register today!).
  3. If you don’t currently earn your living as a coder but seriously want to start down that path, consider participating in Code Convoy in Green Bay on September 19, 2015. This free intro-to-coding event is for anyone age 18+ who wants to try out Web design or development as a potential career path. 
  4. Women who want to learn to code can do that completely on their own using a computer, hardcopy books (if they prefer ink on paper), online manuals, online tutorials and classes, videos, Stack Overflow and Google. For those who want to learn on their own but would like suggestions of good starting points, they can get recommendations from programmers they know, from Women In Technology Wisconsin, or from Mike Putnam, the organizer of Coder Cooperative at the Appleton Makerspace ( And if some women don't have a computer to use, we can loan you a computer for free. Lack of money should not stop anyone from learning to code.
  5. If you want to participate in a group that meets weekly in Appleton “for the betterment of people endeavoring to learn and explore the domain of software development,” consider coming to a 7 - 9 PM Monday meeting of the Coder Cooperative in Appleton.
  6. If Women In Technology Wisconsin doesn’t have an email list serve (like the Tech LadyMafia mentioned above), a NE Wisconsin woman who thinks that’s a good idea should launch a new Google Group specifically for women-in-tech discussions.
  7. Tech women brunch -- consider organizing a few brunches for women in technology. You can also do Geek Dinners or Tech Breakfasts. I’ve organized both Geek Dinners and Tech Breakfasts, and every one of them has been a fun time and a great way to meet new people or strengthen relationships. You could even consider the Midwest version of Lunch 2.0, which started out with tech people informally meeting at various Silicon Valley company cafeterias for lunch. After a bunch of the informal lunches, the companies started sponsoring the lunches. Lunch 2.0 started about ten years ago, so it’s time for Wisconsin to give it a try! And Portland appears to still be doing Lunch 2.0, so it’s not like the concept totally faded away yet. If you want ideas for organizing a Geek Dinner or Tech Breakfast, I’d be happy to discuss that with you.
  8. Women learn-to-code groups -- Leah mentioned she was part of a learn-to-code class that started with just three other women. Someone in NE Wisconsin could just as easily organize a small group to meet regularly in their kitchen(s). Learn to code while deepening personal relationships through shared pain and common frustrations. :)
  9. Women-In-Tech Intro MiniWorkshops -- organize a half-day or full-day tech event with a series of 75 minute introductory workshops that expose women to current tech topics. Topics will depend on who you can line up for workshop leaders, but could include GitHub, Slack, Python, Blogging, HTML Tweaks For Hosted Blogs, Building A Website, Social Media Tips, SEO, DropBox, Google Docs, Open Source Software, 3D Printing, Arduino, Soldering, Robotics, and many more.
  10. Like Leah did, you can organize social events before or after tech events. If you get women together before a tech event, that ensures they’ll know someone else at the tech event. If you do a ‘post’ social event, it’ll be a chance to share frustrations or fun moments that happened, or just spend some time getting to know people you met at the tech event.
  11. Organize a NE Wisconsin panel discussion to generate a meaningful conversation about women-in-tech. If that overview panel discussion is well-received, consider organizing a series of follow-up panel discussions for high-interest topics. Rotate the panel discussion locations to different cities in the region, e.g. Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, etc.
  12. Invite Leah Bannon (or another high-visibility woman-in-tech) to a tech women event in NE Wisconsin. If her schedule or priorities don’t permit her to participate in an event here, ask her to connect you with three high-visibility tech women who might be part of an event here.
  13. Invite tech women from other parts of Wisconsin to connect with you or to participate in tech events in NE Wisconsin. 
  14. Build connections with tech women on every college campus in NE Wisconsin. There are ~20 colleges in the region, but you can start with just one campus near you and expand from there.

To me, Leah Bannon’s message is simply this:

If you want to get involved with technology, just start going to tech events, start teaching yourself whatever aspect of tech you’re interested in and start getting to know people who are involved in technology. If you want to help other women get involved in technology, start organizing tech events for women. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it. Everyone is busy, and if you don’t do it, maybe no one else will.

For more 'tech women in NE Wisconsin' ideas to consider, see my earlier post “Civic Hacking For Everyone, Part 1: Women.”

One goal for the next NE Wisconsin civic hacking event is to have a good mix of women and men participate in the event. Each of the 12 people who were at the August meetup should focus on promoting the next event (in September?) to women who might enjoy being civic hackers!

If you have questions about any of the above items or have more suggestions for me to add to the list, email me at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.


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