Ask me what I thought about computer science as a senior in high school and I would have told you that I’m not interested in sitting in some windowless basement learning to code. I knew I wanted to pursue music.
Until that Computer Science 101 course. It taught me that computer science was creative, innovative, and exciting—and that I could use it to bring the ideas in my head to life. Before long, I also discovered the rapid prototyping culture of the hackathon and attended my very first one freshman year.
It was a dismal experience to say the least. My small team of women pretty much represented the only female hackers in the room at the more than 120-person event. Guys flirted with us throughout the night as we worked—and made a point to tell us our code wasn’t going to work.
After the hack, I turned to one of my professors to figure out a way to create a different kind of hackathon. One that broke down the walls of competition and was inclusive to all, regardless of gender, experience, or college/university. One that modeled a work environment with an equal male-to-female ratio.
HackHolyoke quickly gained recognition and we were lucky enough to have Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (watch the video we created to entice him to come) and app developer and model Lyndsey Scott attend our second one! But the moment Reddit posted a positive Facebook message celebrating the event and some negative comments rolled in, I realized just how far we still have to go.
I even wrote a blog post defending HackHolyoke, our vision, and our environment. I am angry that we still need to make the case for why the industry needs to change. And I intend to continue to work to make that change reality—something my women’s college experience and computer science major have given me the confidence to do.
In high school, I never thought I would organize something as large and humbling as HackHolyoke. Today, I’ve learned that being a leader is about taking a series of small steps that lead to something bigger.