May 20, 2013

Student Developers Opening Doors for the next generation


This past weekend, Hacker News blew up again over the issue of gender bias in tech. Regardless of your views, it's clear there are still a lot more men employed as programmers than women. 

Promisingly, the next wave of developers who are building the future of mobile and web-based technology seem to be setting a new trend. With more hackathons being held on college campuses than ever before, from Penn to USC, from Rutgers to Stanford, a new generation of technical talent is ready to show off their skills.

One of the more hopeful developments for this next generation is that the notorious gender imbalance in tech seems to be getting better. Female students have been getting their hack on at both standard hack events as well as those with a female participant focus, such as Hack'n Jill’s “50/50” hack events in NYC and  espnW Hack Day, which was held at Stanford University last November focusing on sports-related apps for women by women. These events recognize that the future of building great technology will include more women. 

“It’s showing that there’s opportunity for women in the sports and technology space,” Vice President of espnW Laura Gentile said in a Wired article about the event. “It elevates female developers and designers and UX experts. There’s the phrase that Billie Jean King said, ‘You have to see it to believe.’ And part of it is just shining a spotlight on these women and saying you can do it, your voice matters, and you’re not invisible or overlooked.”

Over 200 people attended the espnW Hack Day, with the top prize going to iSports, an all-woman team from Carnegie Mellon University. The team’s Android app identifies players from YouTube videos or ESPN podcasts and shows their stats and biography using Mashery and ESPN APIs.

It’s not just the halls of universities that are hosting hackathons with an interest in APIs. 

Teens like Eva Zheng and Jennie Lamere are also at the forefront of innovation. Eva won the SendGrid and Twilio prizes at the Google #iohack event last year. Jennie Lamere recently won Best in Show at the TVnext Hack event for her Twivo Google Chrome extension (short for “Twitter for TiVo”), which prevents TV spoilers from showing up on Twitter. Jennie has just scored a summer internship at Twitter to bring her prototype to production.

Even pre-teens are getting into the act with the help of their parents. Himesh Gholkar, age 10, came to the London Web Summit in March with his father Vidya to hack and have a little father-son time. Vidya worked with the Twilio API and Himesh built a racecourse, complete with his own racecar using MIT’s Scratch program.

As more hackathons become more accessible to younger and younger participants, more voices will be added to the culture of programmers and this can only lead to more innovation. Whether students are looking to sharpen their skills for internships or just spending a weekend bonding with their parent over creating something cool together, the average age and gender balance of hackathon winners will continue to break new ground.

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