Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Lecia Barker

Second Advisor

Aileen Pierce

Third Advisor

Susan Jurow

Fourth Advisor

Catherine Ashcraft

Fifth Advisor

Matthew Berland

Abstract

Student hackathons are a type of demographic-specific event that are aimed at college students. Students may attend hackathons because they provide an opportunity for informal learning, networking, and building products for social change Hackathons are usually designed to give their participants opportunities to learn or expand their technical skill sets. During the process of building a project, participants learn about project management, task delegation, and the organization and production of a hack with a working demo within the limited time span. Hackathons are great at giving their participants informal and incidental learning opportunities. Participants may have different goals or motivations for attending a hackathon that can change how they participate in the event. Student hackathons have been growing in popularity over the last decade and are only becoming more popular as the computing field grows in size and demand. In the 2017-2018 school year, over 71,000 students in North America and Europe and over participated in a student hackathon. In 2017, every US university with a top-ranked computer science department hosted at least one student hackathon. However, despite their popularity with students, research about student hackathons is sparse and little work has been done studying student experiences at these events. There are also fewer women attending hackathons than men, on average, only 23\% of the participants are women. This dissertation is situated within the existing hackathon literature and complements the work showing hackathons as places of informal and situated learning.

This dissertation focuses on the design of a women and non-binary hackathon, T9Hacks. I founded T9Hacks in the Fall of 2015 and, with a team of undergraduate students, we hosted our first hackathon event in late-February 2016. T9Hacks is open to all students, but specifically encourages women and non-binary students to attend through marketing, structure, and strategic use of competition. Our mission has always been to create a welcoming and safe environment where women and non-binary students can learn and explore with computing. I was drawn to autoethnography as a way to analyze, interpret, and attach meaning to the design of T9Hacks. Autoethnography is a form of self reflection on one's personal experiences within a cultural context to look deeper at social interactions. Articulating the design choices that the team and I made created a list of design principles and lessons learned (listed below) and can give insight into the inclusive practices of student hackathons.

This autoethnography discusses the design of T9Hacks, a women and non-binary hackathon, in regards to its branding, design of competition, and structures that supported our participants. I discuss the name of the event, the graphic design, and the labels and the ideologies and values associated with those choices; how the nature, value of prizes, and framing of the contests were impactful to students; how the professional development and technical resources we provided to the students satisfied their personal goals for attending the event. These elements of the hackathon changed multiple times through the most change and give insight into the challenges our team faced when trying to design an inclusive and welcoming hackathon. The decisions the T9Hacks team was faced with can help inform other hackathon designs as well.

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