She Hacks, Part 1

So! My first ever hackathon – and Australia’s first all-female hackathon. Here’s how it went. (This is She Hacks Part 1: Friday, and is followed by She Hacks Part 2: Saturday, and She Hacks Part 3: Overall.)


6:00pm – Arrived at Inspire9, which is a great venue. Big, light, airy warehouse coworking space in Richmond. We made our own name badges. I knew a few girls there… Judith Gammie, Jackie Antig, Sally Pryor, Liz Blink, and Amanda Watts. In retrospect, I am so proud and think it’s so great that all these girls signed up for She Hacks. It was something unknown and many people were feeling pretty nervous about it. I loved being in a space with all these females who wanted to make something!

6:30pm – Opening talks. The friendly & formidable organiser, Tammy Butow, welcomed everyone, and then there were some short talks. The only one that stuck in my memory was about the ProgrammableWeb directory of APIs, which is pretty groovy.

7:00pm – Time to find our teams! There was a sheet with our names on it, with everyone listed in teams of 3: One hacker (developer), one hipster (designer), and one hustler (person-with-other-skills). It was super weird and reminded me of American movies where high-school students crowd around a noticeboard to see if they have been accepted into the debating/ cheerleading/ football team. My teammates were Shristi Sharma and Sally Pryor. I knew Sally from Girls Club!

We introduced ourselves and gave the lowdown on our skills. The hackathon theme – for the product we needed to make – was “Community and Neighbourhoods,” and some of us had prepared ideas beforehand, so we shared those. None seemed quite right though, so we kept brainstorming.

Shristi had this great idea: that we should all say the one thing that we each really wanted in our product. This became our charter:

  1. Fox – Help women
  2. Shristi – Profitable
  3. Sally – Easy. Simple to use, solving a simple user problem.

The charter really helped us narrow it down – thinking about “what’s a simple problem that could be solved, to help women?” – and before too long, we landed on an idea that we all agreed was our favourite. 

7:45pm – Our idea was finalised. Temporarily dubbed Find a Female Expert, it’s a web application that will solve the problem of conference and event organisers having few female speakers at their events. 

We’d all seen examples of this problem in the past 6 months.

From RubyConf, in Sydney, February 2014:

The idea of female speakers is something that has been discussed in programming circles online a lot recently. The final keynote speaker at Ruby Conf, Eleanor Saitta, finished her speech with a slide of names, (all women I assume) saying something along the lines of “These are just 34 names of female speakers I found within 5 minutes of searching on Google, and who would have been great speaking at this event.”

Unfortunately she was the last speaker, and just after she finished they got all the speakers on the stage – which demonstrated quite clearly, how white and male the lineup was.

– Ruby Conf Sydney 2014 by Tracy Mu Sung

And from Pause Fest, in Melbourne 2014:

And one of our team members, Sally, had just been to the Next Big Thing Summit in Melbourne, where there was only two female speakers in the whole lineup, which was quite sad.

Our solution: the Find a Female Expert web application

With our product, we wanted to:

  • Help and encourage conference and event organisers find more female speakers and workshop leaders (and in turn, increase the gender diversity in the audience)
  • Help and encourage females to speak and lead at conferences and events – by seeing some females you know sign up, you might be more encouraged to sign up yourself!

8:00pm – Dinner. We were served an excellent dinner and fleshed out our idea a bit further.

8:30pm – We really liked our idea, and started sketching out how it could work.

At first, we sketched out what the process would be for an event organiser who wanted to find more female speakers. Then we sketched the process that a female speaker would take, to apply to speak at an event. We workshopped these sketches for a while.

Before the hackathon, Tammy had sent us some useful links & resources, and one was this post: Minimum Viable Product by Will Dayble, and even though I knew that we had to reeeeeeeeaaaallly reduce the scope of our project to get it done in 24 hours, I took Will’s advice and brutally cut even more parts of the process, thinking that it would be better to add extra features at the end, rather than have a whole bunch of functionality that didn’t work.

The overall product

Sketching the home page of the imagined product:

For the event organiser

Sketching the organiser’s process and reducing it to the absolute minimum for an MVP:

Final MVP process:

  1. Home page
  2. Form – Sign up and payment (link to PayPal)
  3. Form – Add event
  4. Event detail – View your event

For the female speaker

Sketching the female speaker’s process and reducing it to the absolute minimum for an MVP:


Final MVP process:

  1. Home page
  2. Form – Sign up for alerts
  3. Email – Get list of events that might interest you
  4. Event detail – View an event and get in touch with the organiser

The pitches and the judges’ criteria 

At some point between 6:00pm and midnight, we were told about the judging. We would all have to pitch our products at 4:00pm the next day, and our presentations had to be 3 minutes long. We would be judged on 6 criteria:

  1. Team – strengths and weaknesses, experiences, why this idea
  2. Innovation – how original
  3. Community & Neighbourhood – does it relate to the theme, is it what people want
  4. Hip – how easy and pleasant to use, how strong is user engagement 
  5. Hack – does it do what you say it will do, could it be real, could it go further
  6. Hustle – how will you get sales, how will you market it, would someone invest 

3 minutes! Yikes! I’ve never done a pitch that short in my life. Most real-world business pitches (and I’ve done a lot) go for about 1 hour, including Q&A time. Only awards pitches are usually shorter… but still, maybe 20 minutes, not 3.

9:00pm – Our team agreed on the absolute barebones version of the web application, and then we got to work. This is where it got a bit tricky. I figured that most of what we needed to do could be done with WordPress, and then we could choose a snazzy theme (e.g. Nimble, Fusion, Flatik, Shadow) and then I could spend the next day filling out the content (copy, images, etc) and planning the pitch presentation, while Shristi worked on the design and Sally worked on the functionality. I thought it would be reasonably easy to adjust WordPress so we could have a login area, and also to hook up PayPal (even with just a link) so that we could show that we were taking payments. However…

Our hipster (designer) Shristi had come along to the hackathon really wanting to use her new coding skills. She’d been learning how to use the MEAN stack (Mongo DB, Express JS, Angular JS, Node JS) to put together applications, and was excited to use this for the application. Sally concurred that WordPress probably wasn’t the right way to go, so Shristi began setting up the application.

Because our hipster was now the hacker, Sally and I were at a loss. We didn’t have a designer, we didn’t have a platform where we could implement content while functionality was being built, and we didn’t have access to the application (which was locally run on Shristi’s computer) so that we could adjust the HTML/CSS or anything like that. (At the time, it didn’t look like we were “at a loss” – I immediately began planning the pitch presentation, and Sally began gathering copy and images for the application, but in retrospect, these were big issues for us, and I feel really bad that Sally, who had applied to be a hacker, was unable to write a single line of code.)

10:00pm – Shristi had the basic application up and running, and was starting to add in functionality so that users could login and add content (add their events), and so the home page could have a large hero area with 4 promo areas underneath the hero. I had the barebones of the presentation put together in Keynote, and I was slowly addressing each criteria in the slides, so that we knew what sorts of things we needed to cover in the pitch. Without a designer, the presentation was very plain, which was a shame.

We had a good idea for our pitch – that we would include a big list of event organisers who were theoretically interested in our application, and also a big list of females who were theoretically interested in being speakers at events. Sally and I started contacting people and making lists of people to contact in the morning.

During the evening, there were mentors coming around and asking us about our product, offering to help us out. On the Friday night, this was helpful, because I was able to work on my pitch: succinctly describing the product in an interesting way, and learning (with each iteration) how I needed to tweak the description, based on the questions I received from the mentors.

12:00am – Home time. I took a train home, arrived about 1:00am, and my brain was buzzing. Got to sleep about 2:30am. This was really rough… I wish that we were able to have more sleep. I just don’t do well on 5.5 hours sleep. I was excited to work on the product the next day, though.

This series on She Hacks is continued in She Hacks, Part 2: Saturday.

[Image credit: Yishan Chan Photography]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.