This weekend, I spent thirteen hours perched in two massive meeting rooms at the World Bank being awed, surprised, and inspired by the knowledge, enthusiasm, and abilities of the 250 or so people who attended the Open Data Day event for Washington DC. I’ve never attended a hackathon before (despite always thinking one would be fun), and there was one repeated reason I heard from other hackthon-newbies like myself that summarized why we came.
Everyone felt welcome.
Everyone, not just those with insane programming skills who can hack an app together in a weekend, was welcome at this event. Subject matter experts, data analysts, data scientists, Excel ninjas, and just generally curious people were all explicitly welcomed to this event, both in the invitations that went out before the big day and in how the event itself was run. There were workshops (introductory sessions, not anything too fancy) throughout the weekend for those who were there simply to learn and explore, while other groups welcomed people of all skill sets and talents to work on projects. No shame if you were just there to learn and attend workshops—said one of the organizers in the introduction on the first day—we’re so glad to have you here.
In the Saturday afternoon Introduction to Python session, Shannon Turner commented on how impressed she was by the gender balance in the room, as a woman who was used to being the stark minority in a room full of men. Her pitch for her Python for Ladies classes showed that there was no lack of interest in learning how to code: the line to sign up stretched across the front of the room at the end of the session.
I would guess there were two factors at play around why this hackathon seemed a bit more gender balanced than most (according to the observations of people who have actually been to other hackathons): one, DC has a population that is more than 50% female and two, everyone was welcome. If the world of computer programmers is made up mainly of men (though I know that the number of ladies who code is ever increasing), it’s unsurprising that hackathons emphasizing bringing together only programmers will be male-dominated as well. The majority of women (in my admittedly limited sample) who I talked to at the event weren’t programmers – they were there because of a personal interest in open data, big data, and learning more about this world that is ever expanding. Organizations like Girls Who Code are doing tremendous advocacy around engaging women, and girls only hackathons have popped up around the country, but I’ve seldom seen the kind of open invitation extended by Open Data Day DC to the kind of people on the outside looking in.
Big, open, sometimes-messy data is going to continue to be an ever increasing means of learning about the world around us, guiding how we as individuals, organizations, and governments design programs, allocate resources, and assess the world around us. I give huge kudos to the organizers of Open Data Day DC for making the open data community truly feel like a community, where every person attending had some kind of value add (programmer or not), and for making it a lively, fun, thought-provoking event.
You can learn more about the projects, like the Philippines road map below, from Open Data Day DC on our Hackpad, and learn more about the Open Data Day projects from around the world through searching #opendataday.