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So what does a hackathon have to do with the humanities?

So what does a hackathon have to do with the humanities?

STEM: how to build a clock HUMANITIES: how to build world in which students of color are not arrested for building clocks. ~@jsench

 

I teach Computer Science at CUNY John Jay. Our student population is 40% Latino/a and 21% black and 47% first generation college students. Last week the Computer Science club heard from Jessica Hills, from the CUNY Tech Talent pipeline who talked about hackathons in NYC. These are events where engineers and students put together a business or product over a few hours during the weekend. They are considered ``elite'' events. After all, you have to build something quickly and then present in a few short hours.

Two of my students approached me after the speech and said they wanted to go to the AT&T Wireless Women in Technology Hackathon for Good (#ATTHack). I knew I would not send them alone. After all, it is intimidating to walk in and find a team. It is a little bit like the first day of junior high school where more people than usual are on the autism spectrum. I have seen people be incredibly generous and I have seen very nasty behavior.

I asked all of my technical colleagues and some friends to take them since I don't identify as a woman and I did not want to be a ``creeper''. However women tend to have less free time to devote to Free Software and no one else was available on short notice. This presentation by Hannah M. Wallach provides an excellent introduction to the challenges women face in Free and Open Source Software. Many of those same challenges are at play in the hyper competative hackathon environment, even one expressly for women.

So I brought them and it was a wonderful experience. They paired with two professional developers, Sara Morsi (@Eowyn327) and Igor Politov (@IgorPutilov). One of whom was a recent alumna of another CUNY school and the other a recent immigrant himself. They created a project in keeping with the mission of John Jay, a school for Criminal Justice and Government Service.

Their app, Jailbreak-my-life was a mobile resource guide for recently released prisoners. They won best overall for a female led team and best use of the Harmon API. We in STEM definitely need to diversify our pipeline and I hope we can all drop this counter productive STEM vs Humanities language I see in too many place. Kids need skills and opportunities. I think that should include both hard technical and critical thinking skills for them to make this a better world than we left them.

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