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Klaus vom Hofe

"We want to make hackathons more attractive for women"

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Wanted: women to develop new applications for artificial intelligence (AI). A special hackathon in Berlin will celebrate its debut in November – the "#AIHack4Ladies". The first AI hackathon for women only, open for registration now. We spoke with the initiator, Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini.

Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini

Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini: "The interesting factor is that women have fewer problems asking questions of other women."

The word "hackathon" is a portmanteau of "hack" and "marathon". The purpose of a hackathon is to develop finished software for a specific purpose within a defined time frame. Why have you decided to make this one for women only?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
The world is changing, thanks to revolutionary technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain. We live in a world characterized by increasing digitalization. We want to give women an opportunity to get more involved. Take a look at pictures of hackathons. You'll see that the vast majority are men. In general, we still have too few women involved in the development of new technologies.

What can the participants expect specifically? 
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
We want to have a joint programming session. We want to show how they can contribute toward creating new, self-learning applications. And how they can benefit from technologies such as machine learning. To do so, we are offering three challenges.

What does that mean?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
They're thematic blocks that the participants work on. Such as programming AI applications to help shape the future of mobility. Or how it can be used to analyze the spread of information and consensus-building on the Internet. And how minorities can present themselves on an equal footing in the online age.

Are ancestry, gender, and age reflected in the solutions a hackathon produces?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
Those factors are reflected in every solution, whether or not it was developed in a hackathon. Our aim here isn't to develop a "feminine" solution. Instead, we want to encourage women to take part in hackathons in general. The experiences we gain from the #AIHack4Ladies will also benefit future, mixed-gender hackathons.

What will happen at the hackathon?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
We will present the challenges and the participants will form teams. Then they'll start developing solutions together. The "hackers" will be completely responsible for scheduling their time. That's the special thing about hackathons. Experts and mentors from IBM and Deutsche Telekom will be available to assist the whole time. On the second day, the teams will present their results. The best teams will win awards.

What do you think: will the collaboration at this event be different than at a conventional hackathon?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
The interesting factor is that women have fewer problems asking questions of other women. I studied electrical engineering myself. If I was working in the lab and didn't understand something, I found it easier to ask one of my few female fellow students. I don't really consider myself a shy person, but sometimes I had the feeling that the men were giving me funny looks. Even though they often didn't understand the subject either. Today I work on automation solutions for our company together with a highly mixed team. It's a tremendous motivation.

Whom are you targeting with the invitation?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
Women who are technically adept or are open for technology. Developing AI solutions also requires a foundation of statistics, data science, and programming. That's why we're targeting women from these areas, but not exclusively. Because in the end, we also need people who will keep the teams together and make it possible for them to develop good solutions in less than 48 hours. Design thinking experts have these skills, for example. Graphic design could also be beneficial, for instance, to present the results attractively. Or rhetorical skills. And if it's about developing solutions for human-machine interaction, then a psychologist would also make a good hackathon participant.

What does this event mean for you?
Kenza Ait Si Abbou Lyadini:
I've already been getting a lot of encouragement in advance. Doors have opened for me throughout the company. The hackathon is also being co-organized by over 20 colleagues from Deutsche Telekom's women's networks in Germany. They're all volunteering, in addition to their regular jobs. Because they believe in it. That's what I call collaboration. It's fun when we all pull together. I hope that we've made a lot of women curious. So sign up now! We'll all meet in Berlin on November 15-16.

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