Who’s (Not) Welcome at Hackathons?

Hackathons are for hackers! Right? That seems pretty… exclusive. After all, part of being a hacker being 13371? Heck, maybe I even used the term “1337” because I knew it would make me seem more important than some of my audience. And unless someone considers themselves a “hacker,2” it can be difficult to know if you’re welcome at an event. Couple that with the tendency of the tech sector to be heterowhitemalepriviledgefest, and you’ve got a self-fulfilling drawer-full-of-homogonous-nails-prophecy.
Things that let you know an event will be welcoming:

Inclusive language

Do you find the language to the event to be off-putting? It likely isn’t for you. But if there’s a smile and a nod that indicates an awareness and affiliation for the groups you identify with, it shows a deeper connection that will likely manifest in safe space.

  • As an organizer, if you have a group of people with a variety of adeptness in the language of choice at the event, indicating that translators will be available helps include everyone.
  • Also as an organizer, working with people within the groups you hope will attend the event, and asking for honest feedback on language and activities will help make for relevant messaging.
  • Codes of Conduct – having a code of conduct clearly listed shows that you have participants’ physical and mental safety at heart. These provide resource for marginalized people if their voices are actively shut down.


Accessibility isn’t just about language and feeling – it’s often very much about physical ability to attend. Some events will have gone out of their way to make sure these barriers to entry have been removed (or at least greatly eased).

  • Physical accessibility – Wheelchair ramps and elevators – some buildings were built after a time where these were mandatory, others have had these retrofitted (or not). As an organizer, space is a physical manifestation of intent.
  • Child care – Many single parents and care takers are excluded from technical events because kids aren’t welcome. By providing childcare, your event becomes more awesome.. and there are all sorts of workshops for kids! Try SCRATCH or ALICE, for instance.

Alternate roles

Don’t quite think of yourself as a “hacker”? Hackathons which purposefully set out to include those new to the field or a variety of roles to tackle a given subject don’t just need expert coders – they need you, too.

  • Skills required/desired – organizers, by outlining what skills should be represented at an event, from “usability” to “activist” to “end user” to “CSV magician,” you make it clear what to expect and who is welcomed – which isn’t just to support interested parties, it’s also to give them legitimacy in the eyes of the more entrenched.
  • Workshops – many people who are totally at the top of their game might not feel that they are. By hosting workshops, you provide space not only for new people to learn awesome skills, but you also give solidity to folk who just need a reminder that they do indeed rock.


If we have to espouse why diversity is a good thing, Why are you on this site? Go away.


1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet

2. Information security professionals and enthusists? Anyone who plays with code? People who tinker with systems? More in our I thought hacking was bad!