This post is part of a blog series for the launch of Ladies First, the Dingman Center’s commitment to increase the number of women involved in entrepreneurship at UMD.
Ladies First isn’t the only initiative at University of Maryland that is breaking down gender inequality—this weekend marks the second year of Technica, UMD’s all-female hackathon, a student-run event that has garnered national attention. Young women in tech from all over the country flock to Technica, and its list of corporate sponsors includes tech giants like Facebook and Yelp. This year, the Technica team added a “Tech + X” week of workshops and panels leading up to the hackathon to help women better prepare for the weekend ahead. Last night, the Dingman Center contributed its network to a panel on Tech + Social Entrepreneurship, which examined how technology can generate social impact. We spoke with Amritha Jayanti ’18, the founder of Technica, about her vision for the hackathon.
DC: Why did you decide to start Technica and then Tech + X week the second year?
AJ: I decided to start Technica because of how I saw imposter syndrome impact my willingness to ask questions and explore in computer science and engineering classes my freshman year. I knew I wasn’t the only person that felt this way, and so I created a medium for minorities to feel safe to ask questions without the fear of looking “clueless” or like they didn’t belong in that field.
After seeing Technica through the first year, I realized that a lot of women really wanted to start hacking right away and take full advantage of the weekend. Having to dedicate a lot of time to workshops prevented using the whole time to hack, so we played with the idea of preparation prior to the weekend. We decided to make week-of events that would allow people to explore basic skills before jumping into the main event. Instead of just making it for CS majors though, we also wanted to use this time to emphasize the intersection of technology with other industries so we created the Tech + X week to bring in people of diverse interests to explore how tech is progressing their field.
DC: Why do you think women are hesitant to join the technology world, whether as founders of their own ventures or through working at other tech companies?
AJ: I think women are inherently more realistic when evaluating success rate—this is a common study that is cited. When seeing low numbers of people in a space who are like them (of the same gender), I think many women suffer from imposter syndrome and shift away from cultures that are less than welcoming to new diverse groups. This is not to say no one in those fields is pushing for inclusivity, but these gender-norms have been ingrained into society for so long and it will take a lot to fully shift that culture.
DC: How can initiatives like Ladies First and Technica make progress on getting more women into these male-dominated fields?
AJ: I think these types of programs offer a sense of empowerment and validation that is typically trumped by male-dominated atmospheres. It is definitely important to remember that you are not the only one that is experiencing the things you are experiencing, and you have this community and support network as you progress through your career path, etc.
DC: Who are your role models and how have they impacted you?
AJ: I am not sure if I have “role models” per se, but I definitely have mentors who have given me amazing advice that I use in basically every decision I make. In fact, they are UMD graduates—Mackenzie Burnett and Jeff Hilnbrand. They have shown me different perspectives while also providing a support system that makes me feel a little more confident when I make certain career decisions, or even just day-to-day decisions. I think it’s extremely important to find valuable mentors/friends like this.
DC: What do you think men can do to be allies in these movements?
AJ: I think men can help open up the dialogue about the existing inequalities that exist, and push more people to see that there is a real problem. Getting that conversation started is so important because right now it is still a little taboo, or many people deny that it even needs to begin. This is something we see with Technica a lot—many guys that support the movement will bring friends who might not have been fully supportive until they had a credible conversation about it.
The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is a proud sponsor of Technica.
Amritha Jayanti ’18 is majoring in Computer Science at the University of Maryland. In addition to founding Technica, she is the current Executive Director of Startup Shell, a student-run co-working space and entrepreneurship incubator at the UMD. This fall, she lead the Startup Shell’s collaboration with the Dingman Center on our two-day idea festival, spark: Where Fearless Ideas Start.