Creating a More Inclusive Hackathon

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time thinking about diversity here at CODE2040. Naturally, when CODE2040 Alumni started organizing a NYC-based HACK2040 event that took place this past weekend, inclusivity was one of the first things on our mind.

Many hackathons face the same lack of diversity we see in the tech industry as a whole. A large number of these events are still overwhelmingly white, young, and male. While most aren’t explicitly exclusionary in nature, a number of factors can play into making underrepresented groups feel like they don’t belong at the table.

The amazing thing about many of these factors is that they are, in fact, controllable. By deliberately putting time and effort into designing inclusive spaces for each hackathon, we all can continue to ensure that events like HACK2040 are welcoming for all participants.

Of course, we’ve had a lot of help on our way to designing a more inclusive hackathon. CODE2040 Alumni Amy Quispe (Fellows Program ‘12) is no stranger to hackathons since she hosted Carnegie Mellon’s first student-run event in 2012. Of the 150 participants TartanHacks drew, 50 were women. In Amy’s blog post, she gave us the following advice on how to build a better hackathon.

Creating a More Inclusive Hackathon by Amy Quispe

A while back I wrote a blog post called How Carnegie Mellon Created a More Inclusive Hackathon. It included a handful of tips for organizers, but also told a story about how we thought about diversity and inclusion. Several years later, I was part of the process of organizing a last weekend’s HACK2040 as a CODE2040 Alumni. In addition to the tips that I provided in my original post, here are other ideas that we developed in order to create a better event:

  • Code of Conduct — A Code of Conduct is a document that is distributed to potential participants that explains what sort of behavior is acceptable and expected. Having this as part of the event is very important to us — it makes participants feel safer, it sets the tone, and it also draws a line for when disciplinary action needs to take place.
  • Goals and Metrics — Deciding what to measure, how to measure, and what success means are all important to creating a solid event. This means more than simply tracking race and gender. Do you want gender diversity to reflect the population of your school’s computer science program? Do you want to see if there’s a discrepancy between those who do and do not complete the hackathon? These sorts of questions are important in order to continue moving forward.
  • Community Sensitivity — Know your community. Talk to your community. Blindly applying tactics from others’ events may work out — but truly understanding your participants means that you can do what’s best for your community. For example, there may be cultural reasons why girls wouldn’t be able to stay throughout the night, in which case you may consider a longer-form event. Empathy is key in order to serve well.
  • Inclusion at Every Layer — Is the judging panel diverse? Do any of the sponsors invoke distrust from certain groups? A recent question we asked ourselves was if hardware hacks would be allowed — how would this disadvantage other participants, and how could we remedy this? If inclusion is a top priority, then it’s a priority through and through.

With the success of HACK2040 under our belt, we’re excited to open doors to even more students moving forward. You can view our HACK2040 highlights here and follow us @CODE2040 for future updates.

Originally published at

About CODE2040: 

CODE2040 is a nonprofit organization that creates programs that increase the representation of Blacks and Latino/as in the innovation economy. We believe the tech sector, communities of color, and the country as a whole will be stronger if talent from all backgrounds is included in the creation of the companies, programs, and products of tomorrow.