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Carleton CompSci pioneers gender equality in tech world

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With the finals of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) and Hackathon approaching, those in Carleton’s computer science community are taking new strides to combat stereotypes and advocate for inclusiveness in the tech world.

Before Marielle Foster ‘16, Ken Schiller ‘15, and Matt Cotter ‘15 participate in the programming finals in Morocco for ICPC on May 20, DevX, a computer science student organization, will host the first Hackathon at a liberal arts college from April 24 to 26.

DevX started an Indiegogo campaign for CarlHack 2015 hoping to endorse the idea that a large, 36-hour-long hackathon can be located at a liberal arts college.

“DevX has helped groups go to hackathons at other schools, so we thought we’d bring it home and try to get a lot of more people involved here who otherwise wouldn’t travel to a hackathon,” said DevX board member Adam Canady ’16.

“Gender inequality in the workplace is a huge problem, and it’s even more so in tech. A lot of tech companies have 10 percent or less female engineers working in their company, and that represents a huge lack of diversity, ideas, thoughts, and processes when you’re actually working on stuff.. It only hurts everybody involved, so what we’ve trying to do is promote gender equality in the hackathon.”

Not only do they have priority registration for female applicants, but also a Women’s Travel Scholarship for those who would like to attend Hackathon but are burdened by the cost of travel.

“If you google ‘gender inequality in hackathon,’ you’ll find dozens of articles, where women have gone to hackathons and been told that they couldn’t come up with as good as a project as some male teams,” Canady said.

“It’s just ridiculous the kinds of stuff people say, and we don’t want that to be representative of our hackathon. We really want it to be a safe place for everybody and to not have to worry about anything. Removing this stereotype from hackathons is goal number one.”

In fact, a requirement of registration is that a participant agree to a code of conduct stating that CarlHacks is devoted to “providing a harassment-free hackathon experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion and will not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.”

In order to ensure a safe and productive environment, participants can report any concerns or harassment to any CarlHacks board member or volunteer.

“I think that DevX has done a really good job of what I’m hoping is setting the precedent for other hackathons by showing they are not a white Cis male space. This is an inclusive space,” Marielle Foster ’16, a cofounder of Carleton’s female computer science club Lovelace and a finalist for ICPC.

“I think being more inclusive too will also open up the door for a lot more people. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen, and I think we’re going to show that liberal arts schools do things differently and do things more innovatively.”

Gender inequality in the tech world is not the only stereotype DevX is challenging at its hackathon.

“In general the events are pretty bad for your health. People are generally awake for 36 hours at least, and they sit there coding the whole time. We have air mattresses, which isn’t a novel thing,” Matt Cotter ’15, ICPC finalist and CarlHacks board member, said. “We also have showers, which is something I’ve never seen at a hackathon and fun activities throughout to get people off their chairs and moving around.”

Hosting a Hackathon at Carleton is unique in that liberal arts are often overlooked in the tech scene.

“When people are familiar with hackathon and go to them a lot, they think about Michigan, Stanford, MIT, Ivy League schools,” Cotter said.

“People in the tech world keep saying we need more liberal arts people, but then, they go and recruit from tech schools and big universities and so it’s kind of an overlooked demographic, but it has a lot to offer.”

“Also we’re encouraging beginners to come. A lot of people when they’re asked to go to hackathon say they are not technical enough. Basically, if you’re interested, we want you there.

“We’re having workshops for beginners who are new to coding at the start of the event, hosting a workshop for Carleton students before to help get them ready, and we’re going to have a lot of software available to help build websites or apps without building much code,” Cotter said.

Because computer science is rising in popularity, “There’s a professor who jokes that it’s going to be Carleton College of computer science and liberal arts,” Foster said. 

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