As a queer woman of color, Rekha Tenjarla has struggled feeling at home in the tech world.
“There’s a lot of informal homo-social bonding in a lot of tech jobs where guys help prop other guys up. I don’t have that network,” says Tenjarla, a front-end developer at The Atlantic. “My entire identity is not represented in a white tech male space.”
To help challenge the status quo, Tenjarla joined the organizing team behind Tech, Rebalanced, DC’s annual one-day hackathon and training event for women, nonbinary, and trans individuals (basically, anyone who doesn’t identify as a cisgender man is welcome to attend). This year’s hackathon will take place on Saturday, October 20 at the Mindspace co-working lab inside the Washington Post building.
While some attendees will have tech experience and others will be total beginners, all will spend the day working on civic hacking projects—like a childcare service matching app—as well as attending workshops and discussion groups.
Most workshops will be dedicated to teaching general, nitty-gritty tech skills, but other sessions will focus on helping attendees navigate some of the more female-specific challenges that come with working in tech. “Give Me My Coins: Asking for Your Worth,” for instance, will address the enduring wage gap in the industry.
While this is the sixth iteration of Tech, Rebalanced—the hackathon first got its start in 2013—the name itself is brand new. Before this year, the free event was called Tech Lady Hackathon. Moving away from that name is part of the organizers’ aim to be as inclusive as possible.
“We have always felt that we’ve been an inclusive environment to all underrepresented genders, but our name really wasn’t reflecting that,” says Joy Whitt, one of the event’s five organizers. “It’s been very much for cis women. And so we wanted to make sure that we were including trans men and women, and also non-binary folks.”
This year’s version of the hackathon will also have a stronger emphasis on design.
“Sometimes DC gets this reputation of not being creative enough,” says Whitt. “We want to make sure that, when we’re giving people an introduction into tech, we’re giving them an opportunity to get in more things than just data science. And so we added in some more creative things, including a design thinking course.”
In many ways, the District is a uniquely friendly territory for an event like Tech, Rebalanced. This year, SmartAsset named DC the country’s top city for women in tech—a distinction it’s gotten four years in a row. At 38.5 percent, DC’s proportion of women in the local tech workforce outpaces the national average by more than 12 percentage points.
Tenjarla worked as a programmer in the West Coast before coming to DC. In her experience, the tech space here has a different vibe, one that’s more conducive to inclusivity and civic work.
“[On the West Coast], the sort of allure to tech jobs is really around money and power,” she says. “Whereas in DC, a lot of time, it’s people who are already plugged in to government and policy jobs who want to cut their teeth on a new skillset to be able to do their job better. So I think to begin with, we have the bar higher in terms of being more civic-minded.”
All of the Tech, Rebalanced organizers are quick to point out that, for all the strides the DC tech community has made, there is still a lot of work left to do. They hope their event, as it becomes more and more established in the local tech calendar, is able to not only impart tech skills, but also help create the kind of inclusive communities and networks that Tenjarla has been missing out on throughout her career.
But that will take time. For now, the organizers are just looking forward to tomorrow.
“Going [to the hackathon] last year for the first time, I left on cloud nine, actually,” says co-organizer Meag Doherty, a Senior UX Designer and Researcher at Agency CHIEF. “It was the first time that I felt like I had a voice in the community.”
Tech, Rebalanced is taking place on Saturday, October 20 at Mindspace, 1301 K St., NW. The event is free.