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On Friday, Oct. 4, hundreds will gather a few steps away from Times Square in New York City for Focus 100, a symposium, bootcamp, and hackathon for black women programmers, founders, angel investors, and innovators.
There, they’ll see something remarkable that really shouldn’t be.
“Twenty-five percent of our attendees for the hackathon will be African-American women coders,” a conference spokesperson told me today.
That’s remarkable, of course, because most programmers are — you guessed it — white males. They’re invited, too, but the point of Focus 100 is to highlight that there actually are coders who look a little different, sound a little different, and just maybe, think a little different too. Which is why, of course, the conference bills itself as “the most diverse tech conference on the planet,” and the spotlight is on programmers and founders who don’t fit our standard cultural norms.
Google is sponsoring the event, and Facebook and Microsoft both have key developers and leaders helping with the conference and hackathon. In addition, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz is an event sponsor — an important partner given that the goal of Focus 100 is to get 100 women founders in the technology sector funded by 2015.
One prior attendee, Amanda Spann, says Focus100 is invaluable for young entrepreneurs, citing recent experience with her own startup.
“I actually met my partner for Blerdology at Focus 100,” she told me. “I was clueless about how to run a business, but Focus 100 opened doors for me, connected me with some of the top tech influencers in the world. You don’t see that very often, especially for African American women.”
It seems to be working. Forty tech companies that were founded or cofounded by African American women were at Focus 100 last year, and 20 percent of them have taking at least one funding round since. All receive mentorship and guidance from some of the planet’s biggest tech companies, including Microsoft and Facebook.
“They’re grooming us to be players in the real world,” she said.
The hackathon on Focus100 2013 is focused, appropriately enough, on increasing civic data access to urban communities on mobile platforms. That makes sense because, as Spann says, “African Americans are overindexed on mobile,” which I think is an interesting way of saying that black urban technology users tend to use smartphones and tablets as opposed to desktop PCs.
Attendees and speakers at the event, 80 percent of whom will be either women or people of color, include TaskRabbit chief operating officer Stacy Brow-Philpot, MC Hammer, Heather Miles from Pathbrite, and FCC chairperson Mignon Clyburn.
Editor’s note: Developers! If you’re good and want to be great, our upcoming DevBeat conference, Nov. 12-13 in San Francisco, is a hands-on event packed with master classes, presentations, Q&As, and hackathons, all aimed at boosting your code skills, security knowledge, hardware hacking, and career development. Register now.
Interestingly, technology evangelist Adria Richards, who was embroiled in a controversy over perceived sexual harassment last year that resulted in both a Playhaven developer getting fired and Richards losing her own job, will help mentor the coders involved in the hackathon, along with tech leaders from Microsoft and Victoria’s Secret.
(Yes, even lingerie manufacturers need software.)
“The black community, especially black women, are a vital part of the overall tech ecosystem, as both consumers and creators,” Kathryn Finney, managing director of the conference. “If you’re looking for diversity in terms of ideas and thoughts around technology and the startup world, then you must attend FOCUS100.”