TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021

Past TechTogether Event (Courtesy of TechTogether).
Past TechTogether Event (Courtesy of TechTogether).

The nonprofit organization TechTogether formed with the aim to increase diversity in the hackathon community with their events and chapters. Now, the new chapter TechTogether Chicago aims to grow upon this mission with their work in organizing one of the few gender-focused hackathons in Illinois. In addition, TechTogether Chicago will be using the virtual environment as an opportunity to innovate and produce new workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology.

Fiona Whittington, founder and executive director of TechTogether never knew that her work would go beyond Boston. When she started out, TechTogether was far from a national organization, but was a Boston-based hackathon known as SheHacks. When the SheHacks team received 800 hackers (out of 1866 applications) Fiona realized that, “gender-focused hackathons were really great tools for getting specifically younger women interested in computer science and other tech related disciplines.”

While she and her team realized that “there was an opportunity to grow our [TechTogether’s] impact to run the program we are doing on scale” the way to do so was an ambiguous process. This led to the rebranding of SheHacks to TechTogether, and with that an, “unique model for individuals to host events across the country” with their nationwide chapter program. And since then the impact produced is astronomical - TechTogether was able to increase the gender diversity in the hackathon community from 2019-2020 by 18%.

Fiona Whittington (Courtesy of Fiona Whittington).
Fiona Whittington (Courtesy of Fiona Whittington).

Inclusivity is also a key value within TechTogether, becoming one of the first gender-focused hackathons to even adopt inclusive terms within their materials and beyond, providing the support and care that helped push the mission of inclusivity within the world of hackathons. This goal of inclusivity is an ever-evolving process. As Fiona mentions, “It has been an incredible experience to evolve our own practices to be more inclusive and we learn and grow on these each year. It is an awesome opportunity to be in a position where we can make these big changes to be included in the community.”

These innovations, however, are just the beginning. This season, TechTogether has introduced two new chapters, one of which is TechTogether Chicago. With the aim to increase gender diversity and inclusivity in hackathons in Illinois and other Midwestern states, TechTogether Chicago Director Gabriella Miesner and their team aim to provide an impressive inaugural hackathon. As Gabriella explains, “Despite the support and training that we have received from the national organization of TechTogether, I would definitely say that there is pressure for the inaugural TechTogether Chicago. There will always be pressure when planning an event as huge as each TechTogether hackathon, but that pressure is amplified when you are starting off fresh in a new city.” However, Gabriella and her team are willing to devote the time and energy towards this first time event. And despite the fears and pressures of producing an inaugural event, the TechTogether community will be able to quell these fears. As Gabriella mentions, “I feel very well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead from my training with the national organization and because of the greater TechTogether community that I know I can come to when I inevitably need help along the way.”

Gabriella Miesner (Courtesy of Gabriella).
Gabriella Miesner (Courtesy of Gabriella).

TechTogether Chicago organizers will have to adjust to the virtualness of the event, while also working towards producing an event with the goal of impacting others. This adjustment however, is far from an issue. As Fiona mentions, “virtual events are really unique and pose an incredible opportunity to introduce this event to a global audience and to be more accessible.” Gabriella also cites their own experience where, “one of my teammates was from Ethiopia!” and this ability to produce a virtual event TechTogether Chicago will be able to “leverage the ability to bring in more speakers and workshop hosts from all over to create a more expansive and better hackathon.”

With this event planning to be held in February of next year, TechTogether Chicago will be able to work towards redefining the stereotype of what it means to be a hacker - not only in Chicago, but beyond.

Story and photos by Garima Sharma, Undergraduate Intern, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: Computer Science, 2021, Undergraduates, 6-8 Outreach, 8-12 Outreach, Women in STEM

For more I-STEM web articles about CS outreach events, see:

TechTogether Organizer (from Tech Together)
TechTogether Organizer (courtesy of TechTogether).