At a recent app challenge in Los Angeles, I sat in a room with dozens of other women from all walks of life to create Windows 8 apps. I’d never developed an app before, but everything we needed to know was presented to us. Using the Azure cloud platform along with game development tools, the purpose of the event was for rising developers to learn new skills, and score a prize or two for the best desktop or mobile app developed by the end of the day.
Hackathon challenges like this aren’t where you usually expect to find tech marketers like myself, or many women for that matter. But the popularity of these events is rising, and this type of community outreach by large companies serves many goals: building goodwill for the brand, growing the app ecosystem, indirectly impacting the bottom line, and fostering interest and much-needed skills, particularly for the next generation of females in IT.
The most recent IBM Tech Trends report showed that the gap in technology skills is only increasing. Only 1 in 10 organizations reported having the skills they needed. And 3 out of 4 educators and students reported a gap in their ability to meet the skills needs of the marketplace. The skills shortage is amplified in emerging markets, especially with the adoption of cloud, analytics, social business and mobile.
But even in established markets like the US, the increasing skills gap by gender is concerning. Prestigious colleges like Stanford, which recently revamped its Computer Science program, has achieved gender parity for enrollment in the introductory-level courses, but finds that female enrollment decreases in the more advanced years of the program.
Hackathons are one way to create excitement about teaching practical skills, developing quick solutions or simply sharing ideas. The hackathon concept has spread far beyond the technology domain. From an eco hackathon to improve livestock farming, to a pet hackathon to help people engage with their pets, to a school hackathon to let kids build apps to improve education processes, the possibilities abound.
In the tech arena, hackathons are a great way for technology leaders to drive skills development and foster community collaboration. IBM’s Center for Advanced Studies has been pooling the collective energy of students to compete in programming challenges for years now. It’s an opportunity for students to harvest emerging technologies from IBM research to come up with solutions to real world problems, allowing them to gain real exposure within IBM and the tech industry.
So while I didn’t walk away from the hackathon event ready to switch careers and don the developer’s hat, it was an enlightening experience. My app? Well, let’s just say the game I created isn’t about to put Rovio’s Angry Birds out of business anytime soon. But I picked up a few tips, and if some of the nearly hundred women in the room take to developing, it could start to tip the scale and decrease the gender skills gap.
Find a hackathon near you: http://hackathon.meetup.com/
Tech Trends Report: