Making the Case for a Makeathon

September 01, 2015
By Educator Innovator

TechHive is a Learning Lab based out of the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California run by our partner YOUmedia. During the last weekend in May, TechHive’s staff and teen interns collaborated to plan, develop, raise funds for, and run a Makeathon. The idea for this event came from a shared desire to experiment with an alternative to the popular hackathon event. Hackathons have developed a negative reputation for often being male-dominated and sexist events. Writers and critics have drawn similarities between the lack of diversity in hackathons as a reflection of a larger lack of diversity both in Silicon Valley and in technology jobs as a whole. TechHive’s Makeathon was a response to this culture, and a contribution towards a constructive event that showed how hackathons can be, if they’re thoughtfully designed.

“’The most negative thing that I feel happens at tech events, specifically at hackathons, is that there is a lot of sexual harassment that goes on… For example, I went to High School Hacks, and a lot of guys saw it as their opportunity to try out their pick-up lines… That is something that I see a lot when I’m doing tech things besides TechHive.’ said Ming, one of TechHive’s teen interns during a YOUmedia Learning Labs Network google hangout where she was joined by TechHive staff AJ Almaguer and TechHive’s Director, Dr. Sherry Hsi. Other female teen interns who had tried their first technology hackathon shared both positive and negative experiences with Lawrence Hall’s staff. Ming wanted to be able to provide an environment that still had the excitement of competition and immersion in technology, but with more female peers. Another female intern found hackathons favored experts and were unwelcoming to both beginners and young women. Participants with no background in robotics, computing, or building would be placed at an immediate disadvantage. As Dr. Hsi commented, ‘It’s hard to measure, but it’s this notion that there’s a chilly climate and an atmosphere that’s a bit hostile towards girls and women… And there are subtle interactions, and subtle ways of framing activity, ways of organizing groups that would cause girls and women to feel less welcome.’ These observations and conversations between teens and staff were instrumental in shaping the Makeathon.”

By K-Fai Steele

Interested in finding out more? Read the full article at the YOUmedia Network blog.