Gender equality — let’s tech it forward

A Women Driven Development hackathon, supported by Google

Last week on October 17th, we held our first ever Women Driven Development #TechItForward hackathon at Google London.

It took my partner phoebe and me 10 months of after-work hours and weekends… and it was worth every bit of it.

I think everyone’s smile says everything!

The group photo at the end of the day — smile, smile, smile! Credit: Eddie Jauode

You can find more about the projects our attendees worked on, the recap of the day and what they thought about it here:


I wanted to bring in a different perspective from a Co-founder’s point of view by sharing our journey so far and some key factors that I think helped make the day such a special one.


How I got into tech

I don’t have a computer science degree. I’m a career switcher.

I jumped into the tech industry after learning programming in early 2016 at Makers Academy, where I met Phoebe.

Prior to that, I was a PhD student at Cancer Research UK. I had only a year left on my study, but I wasn’t happy and I didn’t want to stay in academia. I was feeling quite lost, as I had no idea what to do instead…

Then I discovered the joy of coding through making games!

It took me a lot of courage to quit the PhD though, especially as I was so close to finishing it. But ultimately, I realised that I didn’t want to spend the next year of my life doing a degree that wasn’t going to help me find a career that I enjoy. After a lot of research and going back and forth between options, I took a leap of faith and applied to Makers.

And hands down — it was the best decision of my life! I have been enjoying my life as a software engineer ever since :)


How WDD started

It was late 2017, when Phoebe and I started to explore the idea of sponsorship as means to tackle the gender imbalance in the tech industry.

A sponsor is someone who knows you through working together, who is willing to vouch for your personality and technical skills and open up doors that otherwise might be difficult to find/open. This is relevant to both bringing in more women into tech, as well as retaining them.

By that time, both of us had independently organised numerous events as part of Lesbians Who Tech London, Women in Data Science London and AI Club for Gender Minorities to create communities of fabulous women in the London tech scene.

Still, we felt this need to find a space where less experienced individuals get to work with the more experienced to learn from them and create organic connections. On the other side of the same coin, this would be a rare chance for leaders in tech to work in teams driven by women.

We couldn’t find anything that we envisioned, so we created one.

This was the beginning of WDD.


What’s so special about WDD?

The main purpose of #TechItForward hackathons is to provide people with opportunities for knowledge sharing and learning from each other, regardless of gender and stages in their careers. It’s not about deciding who’s is the best.

So we focus on collaboration, not competition.

For this, it was essential that we created a supportive environment, where everyone feels included, accepted and valued. It’s easier said than done, and we put a lot of thought into it over the last 10 months.

Here are 6 things we focused for our first iteration.


1. Multidisciplinary, self-organised teams

Credit: Eddie Jauode

We grouped the attendees into teams of ~6, taking technologies they use, their skillsets and levels of experience into account.

By doing so, we ensured not only that each team had a capacity to mentor the less experienced, but also that everyone could bring something unique to the table.


2. Getting Googlers involved

Credit: Eddie Jauode

Then, we asked Google engineers to join the teams.

It is extremely rare in our industry to get to work in teams driven by women, and it was important for us that this was as much of a learning opportunity for Googlers as for the attendees.

We heard from our attendees that they benefited a lot from Googler’s technical expertise and hands-on approaches.


3. Idea Precipitation session

Coming up with ideas is hard.

Let alone under the time pressure and with people who you’ve never met!

To take some pressure off from the day, we invited attendees to an evening event 2 weeks before the hack (thanks Makers for having us!). We could see that this really kicked off conversations on Slack and helped people feel much less scary about the day.


4. Work hard, play hard

Some of the artwork produced spontaneously by the attendees.

Hackathons can be intense, and everyone needs a bit of a breather from time to time, right? We wanted to provide a fun space, where people can take time away from the hack and stretch their legs.

So we created the “Play Room” and filled it with a big sheet of paper, lots and lots of pens and feminist jigsaw puzzles. (By the way how cool are these jigsaws!?)

We can’t underestimate the power of taking breaks and being playful.


5. Supporters

We invited 4 incredible women in tech leadership positions as a panel of experts to share their knowledge and experience.

  • Catherine Ruggles, Engineering Manager at Google
  • Rachel Evans, Principal Software Engineer at BBC
  • Sally Goble, Senior Engineering Manager at Deliveroo
  • Suzanne Timmons, Operations Director of Googler Engagement at Google

Their not-so-straightforward career stories, with episodes of imposter syndrome, daily struggle as the minority and efforts to make changes in the industry were so encouraging, inspirational and uplifting to all of us.

Also, a massive shoutout and thanks to senior open source developer Eddie Jaoude, who joined us as a supporter and photo/videographer! You can check out his amazing video documenting the day here.


6. Safe space

Safe space flyer

And most importantly… all these would’ve meant nothing if people didn’t feel safe to be themselves.


When is the next one and how can I attend?

We’re already working on the next one for March 2019!

Keep an eye out on our website and subscribe to our newsletter via the “Want to join?” button, or follow us on twitter. We will be making announcements for the future hackathons and how to apply via these channels.


Want to host WDD hackathons?

We’re always looking for companies and organisations to join forces with us and host our hackathons. If you’re interested in hosting, please contact us at general@womendrivendev.org


Wrap-up & thank you

So that’s it, that was the recap of our first ever #TechItForward hackathon!

We love being Agile here at WDD, so we will be analysing the feedback from attendees to reflect on lessons learnt and try out different ideas in the future iterations.

So watch this space, and see you at the next hackathon!


Last but not least, we are ever so thankful to Google for hosting us at their wonderful London office. (And for the amazing Android swag bag we went home with!). Suzanne, Iuliia, Ursina were absolutely essential in making this happen.

We’re looking forward to partnering up again :)

My desk is now fully swagged up!