It's no secret that women face discrimination in the tech field. In 2017, female business founders received only 2% of all venture capital dollars raised that year, there are significant gender pay gaps in major tech markets, and women's contributions to open source code are more likely to be rejected.

Women disengage from technology careers at a faster rate than their male counterparts, and while recruiters blame a "pipeline" problem in hiring qualified applicants, turnover among female developers and engineers is astoundingly high.

In The Face of Adversity

Organizers of TechTogether are stepping up to challenge the status quo with an annual hackathon. Last month, 1200 (women, and femme / gender non-binary) high school and college students packed into the Agganis Arena at Boston University to participate in this year's 48-hour hacking challenge. They hardly slept (sometimes on the hack floor next to their busy team), making the event a non-stop, caffeine-fueled rush.

Men are welcome to participate as organizers and mentors, along with dozens of corporate and private sponsors. As a mentor, I signed up to provide strategy, usability, and UI/UX support, expecting my role to be limited to digital interactions through chat tools. Instead I found myself on the hack floor, talking to each team, in awe of their ambition and execution:

One team, in a direct response to migrant separation policies at the border, designed a blockchain-based application to keep track of one's family, record official documents, and provide a guide through the legal immigration process.

Another team combined machine-learning to perform age progression on missing or abducted children, and a facial recognition service designed to quickly comb through public video feeds, identifying the most current faces of those children.

Over $20,000 in prizes were awarded, and the ceremony was streamed live.

Published April 28, 2019

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