Inclusivity at CarlHacks

I love hackathons — they have a certain energy that you rarely find at other events. It’s invigorating to come together with a few friends and turn an idea into a functioning app in just a few hours. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to do just that at CarlHacks, a hackathon at Carleton College.

In its second year, CarlHacks drew around 200 students and gave all teams 36 hours to create an awesome piece of tech. The event involved elaborate planning and organization, and was extremely well-run. However, I was disheartened by how little attention organizers paid to ensuring that leaders of the event were a diverse group of role models.

Events like CarlHacks bring together communities of students interested in technology, and CarlHacks especially draws many participants who are new to coding and excited to learn about the field. Because events like these are so important to the culture surrounding computer science, it’s important that they represent their participants and provide role models that all students can look up to and identify with. For these reasons, I was incredibly disappointed that there were no female mentors or judges at CarlHacks.

The field of computer science is dominated by men. Since the ’80s, the number of women in computer science has steadily decreased, despite the industry’s incredible growth. There are many reasons for this disparity, including lack of encouragement for women in computer science, few female mentors and role models and communities that are simply unwelcoming or closed to women who would love to join them. As a woman in computer science, I’ve felt like an outsider many times. My classes are often male-dominated, and I’ve been treated differently by my peers because of my gender. While I was excited to see that many other participants at CarlHacks were women, it is not enough that I see myself reflected in my peers. It is equally, if not more important, that events like CarlHacks have female role models for participants to look up to as leaders in the field.

CarlHacks and similar events have both the opportunity and power to change the gender imbalance that exists in computer science. In the future, I hope events such as these will highlight diversity in leaders in our field to better represent our community.