TechTogether: Blazing A Trail For Women In Technology & Female-Centric Hackathons
Take a second to create a mental image of a hackathon. Picture the computer programmers and software engineers collaborating on a short development sprint. Imagine hundreds of people pounding away at their keyboards and furiously mapping out ideas at crowded tables.
What do these individuals look like?
In your mind’s eye, you likely saw a heavily male-dominated room, which is typical of most hackathons. However, a new organization out of Boston is attempting to shake up expectations and promote inclusivity in a big way.
TechTogether is a non-profit with a mission to advance inclusivity in tech that provides college-aged women with all of the resources they need to host female-centric hackathons on their school campuses. The organization is looking to expand in the coming years and scale operations in order to support more of these events nationwide. Fortunately, we had the chance to connect with TechTogether’s founder, Boston University student Fiona Whittington to get her perspective on the organization’s exciting purpose and rapid growth.
When it comes to planning hackathons, organizers are often discouraged by the amount of time and money it takes to get their event off the ground. TechTogether helps students overcome both of these issues through a “hackathon-in-a-box” solution. These toolkits include all the necessary resources to host all-female and femme non-binary hackathons and can include starter funds and 24/7 access to mentorship.
“I like to think of it as a TedX for female-centric hackathons,” says Whittington. “By using the framework we have developed for organizing hackathons, organizing teams from different locations are able to apply this structure to their own community”
“We realized that a lot of women across the country want to host similar events. We decided not to keep the framework we developed to ourselves.”
TechTogether’s hackathon-in-a-box offering is free as long as students pass a vetting process that shows that they have the time and dedication necessary to take on hosting a TechTogether event. In general, TechTogether wants to support students who are looking for an opportunity to enrich their communities. Currently, the organization has a chapter in Boston and is about to launch their first affiliate chapter in New York.
“As TechTogether continues to grow and inspire on a global level, we hope to act as catalysts in the movement for inclusivity in tech by using our platform and organizational leverage to equip more and more teams to host affiliate hackathons.” Founder, Fiona Whittington
Ending The Hacker Gap
Formerly known as SheHacks, TechTogether was founded by Fiona Whittington during her sophomore year of college. Whittington sought to encourage female engagement in interdisciplinary fields under the technology umbrella and increase the number of women attendees at hackathons. She planned and hosted TechTogether Boston, originally designed as a one-time event, and was blown away by its success. Said, one participant:
“Being surrounded by other women and non-binary people where the emphasis was on learning new things and celebrating each other gave me confidence that I never realized that I could have.”
Whittington felt similar enthusiasm:
“The impact the event had on individuals and the community that it inspired was overwhelming. People felt empowered to be passionate and to work in a space that felt intimidating to them before…the result was a true contribution to inclusivity in tech.”
TechTogether got its start from money raised from advisors, board members, and partners, including support from Boston University’s Innovate@BU resources like the BUild Lab, which accepted the organization into its summer accelerator program. When asked about how individuals at the Lab supported TechTogether, founder Whittington said:
“They [are] incredible. Whenever I have questions or feel lost, they point me in the right direction. They are willing to make introductions and invest time in their students.”
Over the last year, the one-time event has transformed into a non-profit that is now the passion project for 50-60 women from around the country. Currently, TechTogether is working to create a recruiting platform to help companies connect with diverse talent.
“We prioritize working with socially conscious partners and creating tracks within our hackathons that allow our hackers to focus on social, environmental, and civil solutions.”
Looking to the future, TechTogether will continue to promote inclusivity and address the gender gap in the technology space. When asked about her future plans, Whittington responded:
“It’s been a privilege to watch TechTogether grow from a Facebook group of no more than ten people to a community of over two thousand women from around the globe. Moving forward, I’m excited for our team to find an Executive Director to work on TechTogether full-time so that we can take the next step in this whirlwind of a journey. “
Unlocking The Power Of The Underrepresented
This Untold Spotlight Initiative story is a remarkable example of an organization that is stirring up inclusivity in the tech space and inspiring underrepresented student populations. Through its hackathon-in-a-box solution, TechTogether is helping people realize that there is a strong and growing community of women and femme non-binary hackers in the world who deserve to be respected. Whittington and her team have drastically lowered the barriers to hosting women-centric hackathons and are preparing for rapid expansion in the coming years.