Vancouver Doesn’t Just Talk the Diversity Talk; We Hack It

#Hackfordiversity – by Wren Handman

With the political situation in the United States and Europe, it’s no wonder that diversity is on the mind of the average Canadian. There’s a feeling in the air - we can’t simply stand back and do nothing. We’ve organised rallies, we’ve marched, we’ve protested. But we’re often left feeling helpless and frustrated, realising that the powerful energy those events inspire has no outlet. We speak, but what do we change? Where does that frustration go?

The tech community, both in Vancouver and around the world, is acutely aware that we have the power to do more than talk. Axiom Zen’s CEO, Roham Gharegozlou, recently gave a speech at a company-wide meeting inviting employees to bring awareness to issues of diversity, and how the tech industry is doing. It got us thinking; was there something we could do, not just as a company, but also as individuals? We looked at what we can do within our realm of influence that focuses on the inclusivity that is so important in our times? And we came up with an idea:


5 - students

We knew we wanted to partner with students; after all, they’re instrumental in creating the future. The team at Axiom Zen wanted to empower those students with the tools to make real change. So, we decided to join teams with the Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS) organisation and UBC to host a nine-hour hackathon for diversity. BCS is a full-time academically-oriented program that allows university graduates to make a career transition into information technology or to combine their area of interest or specialty with computer science. Their students are passionate about computer science, and come from a diverse set of backgrounds. They host a yearly hackathon, and ask the hackathon sponsor to choose the theme. It was a perfect fit for our #hackfordiversity idea.

We started off with a crash course on hacking that drew in over fifty attendees. One speaker, Nick Salloum, focused on Javascript to ensure that the students had the tools they needed to make the best apps, while Andrew Burian talked about APIs so they could better understand how to implement what they made.

1 - amy present on diversity

On the day of the hackathon, Amy Ngai, Axiom Zen’s lead product designer, presented a keynote about diversity in tech, reminding the assembly that even very simple things can make a huge difference. Take, as an example, job descriptions. These are often written to appeal to an incredibly alpha male personality; changing the wording just a small amount captures a broader audience, and means more people will feel comfortable applying for a role. After all, you can’t hire someone who doesn’t want to work for you.

Ten engineers joined 76 hackers to make the day a roaring success. (A huge thank you to Arthur, the founder of Toby, and Amy for doing this on their birthdays!) After an incredibly successful day, 15 presentations resulted in three phenomenal winners. We hope these projects give you an idea of what Vancouver has to offer the world, and that they inspire you to go out and make your own changes.

Best execution:

16 - best executed Erik Hauner, Sara Tan, James Leung, and Jordan Brooks of Good Team created Safe Spaces, a timely app that helps transgender people find safe washrooms. The app featured a voting component so that community members could voice concerns if they felt an unsafe space was tagged as friendly. safespaces_home safespaces_map1


People’s Choice:

17 - people s choice winners Colourfy, made up of Jacob Shieh, Justin Tao, Yao Liu, and Kyle Leeners, chose to tackle machine learning, creating an app to help colour blind people identify colours. When tackling diversity, we often forget about the difficulties that smaller communities face, so it was particularly exciting to see an app that could remove a barrier so definitively! mockup 3 mockup 2


Most Innovative:

15 - most innovative winners Studies show that if women make up 30% of an audience, people believe they made up 50-60%. Having hard facts about the realities of diversity is the first step to addressing inequalities. So, Reid Graham, Jordan Kroll, Julila Paul, and Rob Willoughby of The Employment Diversity Project chose to tackle a lack of diversity through knowledge. They did a data analysis of NYC employees that produced charts to show a comparison of people’s raw states, like their age and gender. screen shot 2017-03-16 at 2 48 54 pm screen shot 2017-03-16 at 2 48 36 pm


7 -nick and steve What are you doing to encourage diversity in Vancouver? Let us know about your special projects and initiatives!

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