TransH4CK was uncharted territory, both for the transgender and hackathon communities. Never before had there been a hackathon specifically for trans empowerment, nor had there ever been a group of trans people gathering for a community-oriented hack.
So, as I boarded a plane to fly across the country, I knew I wasn’t alone in never having attended a hackathon, despite spending the past decade in tech. With trepidation and excitement I embarked to see what I could learn and produce. And in the end, I exceeded my expectations.
TransH4CK kicked off with a series of Google Hangouts with innovators sharing their insight on creating tech platforms for the trans community. We heard from Janet Mock of #girlslikeus, Sarah Prager of Quist App, and Micha Cardenas, among others. The second day included a panel of trans and genderqueer folks employed in the tech industry.
As each presenter imparted their wisdom, I noticed 4 key themes emerge.
1. You don’t need to code to create valuable technology.
The hackathon began with participants introducing themselves and their backgrounds. I happen to have been close to the last person to share. I listened to everyone speak about what they do professionally and noticed that those who weren’t in tech were almost apologetic for their inevitable failure to contribute meaningfully to a project. By the time I got to the microphone, I felt the need to remind people: you do not have to know how to code to be involved in tech! The projects that TransH4CK produced are a clear testament to that.
Janet Mock — who created the #girlslikeus hashtag, a platform for trans women to communicate through social media — offered this prime example during her Google Hangout. The sentiment was repeated by Sarah Prager who, despite not having a tech background, was able to produce an app for the LGBTQ community; ultimately, she used crowd-sourcing to fund professional developers. Jack Aponte of Palante Technology Cooperative echoed their point on the second day, discussing how to use a cooperative model to include folks with different skill-sets intentionally in a company providing tech services.
2. It’s important to produce tech that reaches and/or helps isolated members of the community.
I daresay isolation is a hallmark of the trans community, whether one is among very few trans people in their area or one feels alienated by a society that leaves trans people at the margins. Or both. It’s important to apply the understanding of isolation that many trans people have to tech produced for the community.
A couple examples of applying this awareness were repeated throughout the weekend:
- Products that are generally accessed by smartphone should explore creating an interface for conventional cell phones.
- Those interested in producing social technology or media — such as the #girlslikeus hashtag — should consider how to make their product friendly for the widest range of users.
3. Make your tech and your talent accessible by thinking open source.
One piece of advice was especially game-changing to me: use open source technology. That includes the need to make any technology you produce open source-accessible.
Hacking began with the announcement that we should all submit our work to a shared GitHub repository and that the winning project would receive a private repository on GitHub as part of their prize. A panelist shared the experience of getting jobs through displaying work on GitHub, another through submitting patches to open source projects. We were all encouraged to look for open source projects that may have implemented part or a version of what we were hacking together that weekend.
While my project didn’t branch off of an existing open source project — placing our code on GitHub has already payed off. The latest member of the team saw the code and recognized her skill-set could help and reached out.
4. If you’re an ally, you can best help trans job-seekers and colleagues by advocating for inclusive policies.
TransH4CK was a special environment because it was one of the few where participants could work free of anxiety over being trans* or gender non-conforming. For allies who say they want an inclusive environment—a claim most often associated in tech with including more women, but which extends beyond that— their actions need to demonstrate care for trans employees. Given the state of affairs in which trans people are still fighting for security in healthcare (and housing and employment and more), being actively inclusive necessitates advocating for inclusive policies, starting with healthcare.
These tips were learned personally at TransH4CK, but they really apply across-the-board:
- You don’t have to code to help produce valuable technology
- Think about how best to benefit your community with tech you produce
- Use what’s out there to your benefit and make sure you make your work available to benefit others
- And, if you’re an ally — don’t just talk-the-talk: walk-the-walk
I recently learned that there may be future iterations of TransH4CK, maybe even one on the east coast. To those who attend and those who want to/work in tech: take these tips to heart!