Home > Articles > Programming

Beyond Leaning In: My Year of Hackathons

Eighty percent of success is showing up. San Francisco-based designer and educator explains how showing up to one hackathon changed her life.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

Eighty percent of success is showing up. I’d heard the Woody Allen quote throughout my career and scoffed, “That’s IT? What’s the challenge in THAT?”I think back to this quote as I analyze this past year and all the new tech experiences that have come about by showing up. My current incarnation as a co-founder of a startup, urbanwander.org, almost didn’t happen because of not showing up. A collaborative humanitarian project in Haiti almost didn’t happen because of not showing up. Being on a juried panel to review awe-inspiring civic minded projects almost didn’t happen because of not showing up. Woody was right: It was showing up to one hackathon that changed my life.

At the start of the year I signed up for EveryoneHacks, sponsored by the humanitarian tech organization Geeks Without Bounds. This weekend hackathon’s theme was education, and the event was geared towards women and LGBTQ communities. An hour before, I almost talked myself out of going. Why? Was I not technical enough? No, I worked as a designer and had taught digital arts and interaction at City College of San Francisco for several years. The naysayer voice inside tried to talk me into leaving it to the coders. I was a little nervous, but something about the specific audience was too exciting a lure. A preliminary web search calmed my fears. The term hackathon can be traced back to 1999. Hackathons gained traction in the mid-late 2000s, when companies started holding their own hacks to build quickly and incubate ideas. Projects that were started at hackathons and went on to become successes include PhoneGap, GroupMe and Zaarly. I also liked the idea of quick iterations and sprints. With little to no expectations, I kissed my dog goodbye for the weekend, strapped on my laptop bag, and headed to the unknown.

Where the Ladies At

As a hackathon newbie, Geeks Without Bounds made the atmosphere inclusive for all.

I was impressed by the proportion of women who participated--80% ! It really changed the energy. Even when my group didn’t agree, we listened and worked well together. We were coming from a place of trust and respect that may be somewhat rare at these bigger tech events, especially for women.

What did I do? I joined a team of three other women programmers who were interested in building a collaborative learning tool for students and teachers. In two days, the iOS mobile app, GroupSail, was born. I did the visual design, while the rest of the group built the front- and back-end. Having a teaching background helped the user experience part of the app. I’ve had lots of varying group dynamics in my classroom and felt confident that my input contributed to the viability of the product. It wasn’t just the coders doing the heavy lifting!

And The Winner Is

GroupSail placed first at EveryoneHacks. The win was completely unexpected since it was a first-time experience for every member of my team. We were elated. Team GroupSail presented the app at the HP Women in Tech conference, where we received mentoring and encouragement from the audience of predominantly female CTOs and CEOs.

Another invaluable prize was the chance to join an international team of developers and designers at an upcoming hackathon in Port-Au-Prince. A hackathon in...Haiti? I didn’t know what to expect. I knew little of the infrastructure of the country and even less about how technology played a role, if at all. But I was truly humbled and excited to have been chosen by the sponsoring organization, Digital Democracy, to participate. I often work with nonprofits in my freelance career, so this opportunity really spoke to me. At that point my prime expectation was to contribute my skills to help KOFAVIV, the grassroots women’s organization located in Port-au-Prince.

I’d been brought in as a visual designer, but ended up spending a lot of time with the KOFAVIV agents, the women who were the end users. Working with the women from the organization was my favorite experience of the trip. It was tremendously important to get their opinions and feedback as the process iterated. We collaborated on lots of design sessions, creating prototypes of login screens and map views. I wanted to take the technology out of the equation, so we went nuts with markers and paper. I enjoyed the democratic process of sharing icon designs and then having the women vote for their favorite ones. I wanted to work directly with Haitians and not in a vacuum, to really get into the needs and usability issues.

Our team built an application based on the organization’s database and Open Street maps. Ultimately it will be used by the KOFAVIV Call Center to aid victims phoning into the hotline, helping locate services (like emergency care) in and outside the Port-au-Prince area. It was launched, appropriately enough, on International Women’s Day.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Upon my return from Haiti, I really noticed the popularity of hackathons. The assorted themes ranged from gaming to bioscience to social and civic-minded projects. The DiscoverSF hackathon, sponsored by the San Francisco Mayor’s office, focused on exploration of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. This was the perfect place to pitch an idea that was being kicking around: an app that encourages discovery of off-the-beaten-track urban spaces.

We were three designers who needed programmers to help us build the project. DiscoverSF seemed like the perfect spot to make a pitch. Immediately after the initial pitches we found ourselves becoming a team of 10! That weekend we built the first prototype for our app, SF POPOS. Our hard-working group of developers and designers were able to incorporate geo-triggers that highlighted privately owned, public open spaces (POPOS). It placed first at the hackathon. The top prize was the ability to build out our idea in a tech coworking space in the SOMA area of San Francisco. A start-up was born!

Turning the Table

With a couple of hackathons under my belt, I had the distinguished honor of being a judge at the National Day of Civic Hacking. For one weekend, citizens, programmers, designers and idea people gathered across US cities to collaborate and problem solve. This collective and energizing event brought projects that ranged from rural farming solutions to challenges that face blighted neighborhoods. I love the quote from their website: “National Day of Civic Hacking will provide citizens an opportunity to do what is most quintessentially American: roll up our sleeves, get involved and work together to improve our society.”

My Day of Civic Hacking was hosted at San Francisco State University. Most of the groups were comprised of students working alongside area experts from local government and other non-profits. I was most impressed by the passion and dedication the groups showed. They really listened and analyzed the problem, then used available data sets and area experts to inform their iterations. It was also great to see a diversity of genders and nationalities. I enjoyed the presentations and sharing my own experiences with the groups.

Of course there were other hackathons that were not as inclusive or productive. I abruptly left one where the vibe was, “We’re here to win cash.” But even showing up at those reminded me that there are indeed opportunities everywhere, often when we least expect it. Hackathons have allowed me to go beyond leaning in, to fully fall into the fold by collaborating and building. It’s an excellent entree for women in technology. All you have to do is show up and the rest will follow.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020