Digital Currency Initiative Hacks on Bitcoin with 120 Girls Who Code

Chelsea Barabas
Aug 6, 2015 · 3 min read

Inclusion and diversity are both part of our core mission at the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative. We believe that the more diverse the group of people working on digital currencies, the more well-positioned it will be to identify and build meaningful applications that address real-world needs in the future.

Kristin Hall welcomes participants to the Media Lab.

Last week, we took our first steps at addressing this issue by collaborating with Girls Who Code to host 120 high school girls for a digital currency mini-hackathon at the Media Lab. Research has shown that girls’ interest in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) drops off markedly in high school, particularly around the 10th grade when students have the choice to enroll in more advanced science and math courses. We discussed this trend with the young participants from Girls Who Code and a panel of women from the Media Lab, who shared their journey going from curious high schoolers to full-fledged scientists and engineers at MIT. They shared stories about the challenges they have faced growing up, working on math and science projects in which they were often the only female student. Many of the themes we touched on during the panel have been echoed recently on Twitter, as a community of female engineers post photos using the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer to combat stereotypes about what an engineer looks like.

After the panel, Tess Rinearson, an engineer at a San Francisco-based bitcoin startup called Chain, ran a technical workshop on the nuts and bolts of the blockchain, the underlying technology that makes digital currencies like bitcoin work. Understanding the blockchain comes with a steep learning curve, one that requires a basic literacy of key concepts from cryptography to computer science. Yet Tess was able to break down the main ideas in an engaging, emoji-filled :) presentation that had the young coders in the audience raising their hands to ask follow-up questions and digging into the details of establishing and securing transactions on the blockchain. By the end of the day, the girls were programming functions to create and trade assets on the blockchain. Since then, we’ve received emails from many of the young coders to learn more about digital currency.

Tess Rinearson leads girls through workshop on the blockchain.

As someone who has researched the challenges of increasing diversity in the tech sector, I’m excited to see these kinds of events taking place at such an early stage in the development of cryptocurrency. By taking a proactive stance towards building a more inclusive pipeline into this field, we can avoid many of the struggles that the broader tech community faces in cultivating and recruiting women and underrepresented minorities to work and lead innovative projects in this growing field.

In addition, we are thrilled to collaborate with Consensus 2015 to provide 50 scholarships, worth $75,000, to attend their digital currency summit on September 10th in New York. Consensus Scholars will not only get the opportunity to attend Consensus 2015 free-of-charge, they will also meet with leaders in the industry during the event to gain unique insights into the digital currency economy.

We look forward to continuing to work with innovative companies, like Chain and CoinDesk, and organizations like Girls Who Code to improve diversity in the digital currency industry.



Chelsea is the Senior Advisor for Social Impact at the Digital Currency Initiative.

MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative

News and ideas from the Digital Currency Initiative. Bringing together global experts in cryptography, economics, privacy, and distributed systems.

    Chelsea Barabas

    Written by

    Senior Advisor for Social Impact at the MIT Digital Currency Initiative. Former RA @civicMIT | MS @cms_mit

    MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative

    News and ideas from the Digital Currency Initiative. Bringing together global experts in cryptography, economics, privacy, and distributed systems.