Hack.Summit() Conference Tackles Inequality in Tech

Hack.Summit() is a virtual programming conference being held Dec. 1-4. It's already the largest virtual programming conference in the world, with more than 27,000 registrations, but ProgrammableWeb readers still have time to sign up and participate.


Some of the world’s leading programming creators and coding intelligentsia will lead presentations across the four-day conference schedule, including:

  • Alex Gaynor, director of the Python Software Foundation
  • Rebecca Parsons, CTO of ThoughtWorks
  • Sarah Allen, co-creator of After Effects and Flash video
  • Chris Richardson, founder of Cloud Foundry
  • Gilad Bracha, co-founder of the Java Language Specification
  • Matei Zaharia, inventor of Apache Spark
  • Brian Fox, inventor of the GNU Bash shell
  • Melody Meckfessel, head of development infrastructure at Google

Also presenting will be Jon Skeet, the No. 1 answerer on StackOverflow, who will do two presentations at once, according to Hack.Summit() organizer Ed Roman: “He is going to be doing two Google Hangouts at once. One will be showing his slides, and one will be a sock-puppet presentation!”

All presentations will be broadcast live using a combination of Google Hangouts, YouTube live streaming and Crowdcast, says Roman:

Google Hangouts is used between myself, as the host of the event, and the speaker. So I am in a one-on-one hangout with the presenting speaker. Then this is streamed via YouTube live, and we will have an embedded live stream on our website. Wrapped around the streaming will be Crowdcast, which is a technology that will allow audience members to type in questions so everyone can see them, and then those questions can be up-voted or down-voted, and the best questions will be answered by the speakers.

Roman notes that speakers have been encouraged to focus on best practices:

We asked all of our speakers to speak to industry best practice, practical advice, and not be too fluffy in their presentations. Some will do fireside chats, some will show code. API developers will certainly have a lot to learn from the speakers. We told all of our speakers not to dumb it down but also not to require the audience to know any specific APIs, so most API discussions will be taught from the ground up.

The goal of Hack.Summit() is to raise funds for coding nonprofits, including:

  • Black Girls Code
  • Bridge Foundry
  • Code2040
  • Code.org
  • Code for America
  • Code the Change
  • CodersTrust
  • CoderDojo
  • Ladies Learning Code
  • ScriptEd
  • Women Who Code

Roman believes the caliber of speakers committing to the event has been enabled by the virtual nature of the conference, but more importantly, by the support for the not-for-profits that the conference will be able to generate. "When you reach this level of notoriety as a developer, you are looking for ways to give back. Rather than take time out of your schedule to travel to a conference, this is a one-hour commitment," he says.

Many of the nonprofits supported by the conference’s fundraising are actively addressing one of the greatest challenges in the IT industry: the disparity between male and female coders and the underrepresentation of minorities (that is, people of color and Hispanics) in the coding workforce.

Elaine Marino shares a photo of Laura Weidman Powers’ Dreamforce presentation on underrepresentation of minorities in tech.

Civic technologies researcher J. Nathan Matias writes regularly on solutions to the inequalities in gender and workforce diversity in the IT industry. In a blog post in June, Matias referred to a presentation by Laura Weidman Powers, founder of Code2040, one of the nonprofits supported by the Hack.Summit():

Firstly, science, tech, and engineering jobs are the fastest growing jobs in the US. This is where the open jobs are in the country. 1 million jobs in tech unfilled by 2020. Secondly, 90% of population growth comes from minorities. In 2040, people of color will be the majority of people in the US. At that point, 40% of Americans will be black and latino. Blacks and latinos currently make up 30% of the population and earn 20% of computer science degrees, but they're in less than 10% of tech roles. It's a new workforce, when we think about who's going to be filling jobs in the future.

Founders are only 1% black and latino: We're leaving talent on the table, Laura tells us. Tech jobs are not just any jobs, they're actually great jobs. The average salary of a tech worker is greater than the median household income of a black family and a latino/a family combined. Connecting this portion of the population has the opportunity to lift families and communities out of poverty.

A data science survey released by O’Reilly Media last week illustrates one data point in this disparity. The 2014 Data Science Salary Survey shows a gender pay gap of $13,000 among the 816 survey respondents. “Gender serves as the least logical of the predictor variables, as no tool use or other factors explain the gap in pay — there seems no justification for the gender gap in the survey results,” wrote survey authors John King and Roger Magoulas.

“We will be addressing that question specifically at the summit,” says Roman. “Only 2% of all open source contributions are contributed by women. So that is 98% of contributions being made by men, and mostly white men. Female student registrations in IT courses are falling, so the numbers of women’s participation in the IT and programming sector is actually decreasing. When you are growing up, you emulate the peer group around you. Programming is one of those things where when you get stuck, you need to ask your peers or mentors, so if I don’t have a lot of programmers around me that match my demographic, I don’t have people who I can ask. This whole idea of mentoring is an overarching theme of the summit.”

Mentoring and having access to diverse role models is one of the key supports that can create inclusion for the next generation of programmers, says MIT researcher Matias.

“We are humbled that the community has come out for this initiative,” says Roman. “It shows that people are willing to give back. There is a lot of goodwill out there. It says something about our industry that it is getting this level of support in its first year.”

ProgrammableWeb readers can register online to attend.

Be sure to read the next Events article: APIdays Keynotes Envision the Future, Encourage API use for Social Good