18F hackathon aims to involve more women in civic tech

The General Services Administration's 18F innovation hub is holding the government's first Women in Tech and Data hackathon and training day.

The Nov. 7 event, to be held at 18F's offices at GSA headquarters, has dual purposes: It's a hackathon to work on several 18F projects and a series of training sessions -- on advanced open-source technology, user-centered design, and GitHub and open-source basics.

Although the event is open to everyone, it is particularly geared toward women who work in government or are interested in working in government.

18F will run the event with help from a handful of women at the U.S. Digital Service. The ringleader is 18F Project Manager Leah Bannon, whose interest in planning and hosting hackathons for women started when she noticed how few women attended them.

"I was going to a lot of hackathons, and I felt like they were really good, valuable learning and networking opportunities, and I was the only woman at a lot of them," Bannon told FCW. "I didn't like that women were missing out on that opportunity."

She said there were no hacking groups dedicated to women in government, and that was one of the reasons she wanted to host an event at 18F.

"At some point, the underrepresentation of women in technology becomes a self-reinforcing problem," Bannon said, "and the more we can develop the community to network and support each other, the better off we'll be."

The broader goal for the Nov. 7 event is to build a community of women in government IT, but 18F officials also hope to see more immediate outcomes.

Bannon said participants will work on the Midas, which is a marketplace for federal employees to improve government; test the hub 18F is building to make it easier to submit Freedom of Information Act requests; and try to complete a variety of 18F "DevOps" tickets.

"I see hackathons as an opportunity to jump-start new projects or help a project get a big step forward," Bannon said. "This is a unique opportunity to have outsiders come in and give us their ideas."

Another project she hopes hackathon participants will brainstorm on is the "If gov, then that" project to come up with new ideas for using government datasets.

18F is seeking to increase its own diversity and build a team with more women. Eleven of the 55 employees of 18F are women, according to GSA's website, and Bannon said 18F officials have been working with the human resources department on publishing their workforce diversity statistics to the public, in the same way that many private companies do.

"Diversity matters to us at 18F because we feel it leads to a stronger team and a better place to work, learn and grow as people and as professionals," GSA officials said in a statement. "We seek to innovate, and that is very hard to do in a monoculture. This is just one component of our larger efforts to improve diversity at 18F, as well as in the federal government and technology industry."

Although the hackathon is geared toward women, officials won't lock the men out of the room completely. Some of the male 18Fers will be helping Bannon run the show and doing administrative tasks.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.


  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.