Tech Community gives back via Civic and Community Hack-A-thonsSince this blog first launched in 2010, I have blogged about the intersection of technology and politics with a heavy focus on laws, policies and practices that impact underserved, unserved and other markets and communities that have a lesser presence in the tech space. Throughout, I’ve had an interest in bridging the opportunity gaps and expanding access to the resources and the knowledge base of underrepresented communities and those that inhabit those spaces. Recently, I renewed my interest in policies that stifle investment in the online digital space, an ecosystem which is open, free and has one of the lowest barrier to entries for women and people of color. But then it got bumpy when I jumped to defend a non-profit media opportunity access organization that I am on the board of, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. I was told that some progressive and left of center bloggers, disgruntled that orgs, others and myself did not support their position on Network Neutrality, were launching personal attacks on us all. It was upsetting because in my mind of minds, I was and am wary of issue trolls. My rallying cry has always been that groups and people who do not show solidarity or support for enterprising, rising and emerging domestic communities cannot be trusted. The point being that critics who are not ordinarily around to help alter the startling statistics of the underrepresented have less of a right to jump in and start telling those of us working on these issues what we should be doing, and certainly not calling us names like trolls and sell outs simply for taking an opposite position. In my minds eye, I thought only those who were and have been expressing a vested interest in broadband adoption, and bridging the opportunity and knowledge gap have a place to speak up and out on the communities that these groups serve. From my experience whenever diversity in tech comes up, there are a cadre of white and Asian men who speak up to scream that women and minorities aren’t qualified, don’t get Computer Science or other STEM degrees and therefore, should not expect to be included. There is a failure to recognize that tech companies need more than just programmers and coders to work at their start ups; and that there are “talented and qualified” men and women of color who graduate with STEM degrees each year, at least from HBCUs at least, yet they aren’t hired. Like in many industries, a culture of exclusion is cultivated when employers and start ups hire, advance, include and accept only those who are already “in” and have a personal connection or other link to intimate power circles. Also, the onus is on the outsiders to force their way in and to disrupt the comfort zone of those who are already in. It’s a very high hurdle to climb and many may see it and not even bother. Indeed, it’s complex. The tech community didn’t seem accepting of doing its part to change, I thought. I was not aware of much effort. However, this week, I started to notice and pay attention to some of the really good community and outreach events that a local Washington DC, tech incubator community, 1776, has put on. It hosted its development agency, Ghost Note‘s event to promote the DC African American tech industry, another recent event partnered with a group promoting African coders encouraging investment on the Continent and it will also soon host Capitol One’s Technology team’s community hack-a-thon to assist local charities to upgrade their website and services to better serve their constituencies. A quick Web search revealed that several other tech communities, groups, organizations, companies and colleges too have been using their knowledge for community and global good. For example, Maryland’s Goucher College hosts a community hackathon too that brings together citizens, software developers, scholars, entrepreneurs, designers, and other creative thinkers to come together to build community solutions. The teams used one weekend to build projects from technology, sustainability, and regional cultural spaces Iowa – In Des Moines, a group called dsmHack organized a 48-hour charity hackathon that paired nonprofits in need of upgrades and apps with over 80 computer programmers, developers, project managers and designers who, after 48 hours, delivered the projects to the 18 nonprofits who before had pitched their needs and broken up in teams with the developers. Colorado – Code for Communities organizes developers, designers, data geeks, leaders, and idea-makers who volunteer to help Denver regional government and civic orgs adopt open web technologies. Philadelphia, Maryland – Web Slam connects together local technology leaders and urban high school students to learn how to write code while building projects for area non-profits. It has organized events in urban communities in Baltimore and its next one is in Philadelphia. San Francisco– Creative Currency gathers “leading developers and designers with national experts in social finance, local currencies, crowdfunding, sharing platforms, and other leaders of the new economy” to come up with policy solutions to address”
pressing questions, such as: How can financial data empower low-income residents? How can local currencies support local businesses and community organizations? How can sharing platforms be tailored to fit the needs of under-served communities? How can tools like crowdfunding and microcredit be put to work for social service organizations and individuals alike?”
Code for America helps other communities organize civic and community hack-a-thons, noting that the success of previous such events show that the model cna easily be replicated in other cities.This showing of solidarity, giving-back, citizenship is welcomed and reflects an interest in the tech community to make the nation more competitive for all, not just the privileged and connected few. It is quite refreshing. Very refreshing!