Intertech Hackathon: Make Stuff Better
1 October 2014, by David Simons
Intertech, started in the vein of other sectors equivalent organisations, is an LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans*, Queer and more) diversity forum for those working in the technology sector. I was first made aware of them by an article in the Evening Standard newspaper, and followed their work closely ever since.
It’s no secret in the office that I’m a fan of advocacy groups, and I’ve been really happy with how Softwire has been attempting to reach out to the wider community in a number of events we’ve organised in the past. However, having around 100 employees rather than, say, tens of thousands, means that we aren’t able to have staff networks targeted around minority groups in the same way as larger organisations. Because of that, I’ve found the networking opportunities at Intertech events a great way to meet other techy people and share experiences of being (for me) gay in the technology sector.
On top of the pub quizzes, and great talks they put on, they’ve started a tradition of an annual hackathon – #MakeStuffBetter – that aims to give budding technologists a chance, in 24 hours, to develop an application of some kind to make lives better for those in LGBTQ communities. I was fortunate enough, along with a small group of friends and colleagues, to go to this event in 2014. I love hackathons at the best of times. You get to meet new people and learn new things, and the chance to contribute towards LGBTQ+ rights at the same time was the cherry on the cake.
There were two eventual winners of the hackathon:
- The LGBT Whip, of which Hereward (a fellow Softwirian) was a team member. They aim to amass information about potential MP’s LGBT voting records and intention. This would allow future voters to be informed about how they vote.
- Uh-Oh, the panic alarm that gives its user a sense of safety if they walk in a new area that makes them uneasy.
They’re not available to use right this minute, but I know both teams are interested in turning their prototypes in bona fide apps, so watch this space!
The app that our team ended up making was PronounJS, a Chrome plug-in focused at increasing the usability of the web for trans*, or otherwise genderqueer individuals. A small thing that, I’ve been told, can be significantly draining for people who may have transitioned from one gender; or who have fluid genders at different times, is the use of incorrect pronouns. Our aim was to give a slight prompt to a user of our programme if we see that they might have used it wrong.
If you install the app, then it will scrape any page for URLs or attribute of a specific form that defines the preferred pronouns (e.g. he/him, she/her, xe/xim) of individuals that you may be talking to – and then give you a helpful autocorrect dropdown suggested “Ah, you may have misgendered this person – did you mean…” We’re not suggesting this will solve all problems with incorrect pronoun usage on the internet, but hopefully if this became a bigger thing, then will take a little bit of stress out of some trans* people’s lives.