LinkedIn hosts first own women-only global hackathon

LinkedIn's latest hackathon was for women only, attracting more than 100 participants in Delhi and Silicon Valley.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. -- LinkedIn has been getting into the hackathon scene more lately, and its third hack day event this past weekend, DevelopHer 2012, was offered for female developers only.

Jim Brikman, a software engineer at LinkedIn who runs all of the social network's hack days, commented that event organizers noticed that women are underrepresented at most hackathons and other engineering events.

"It's nothing about women not knowing how to hack, but sometimes they're intimidated," said Brikman, explaining that the goal for this event was to provide "an awesome environment" for women to generate ideas.

Over a few hundred women expressed interest in the event, and the event was considered global as more than 100 female developers participated in the event from June 30 to July 1 in New Delhi and at LinkedIn's headquarters in Silicon Valley.

But when it comes to what the judges were looking for, the same rules and goals apply. Rashmi Sinha, CEO of SlideShare and one of the four final round judges, said she was looking for "the best solution to a simple problem."

"We always look for interesting teams that have picked up an interesting problem and built at least a semi-solution for it rather than just a hack," Sinha explained. "You don't necessarily have to build the most technology, but it's nice to build something that solves a problem."

One example that Sinha really enjoyed was MuniMobile, a finalist and runner-up winner that sends real-time updates via SMS about local bus lines and stops in San Francisco. For anyone who depends on public transportation in San Francisco, you know how vital that could be.

Beyond that, a lot of the projects really varied from the kinds of tasks accomplished and activities involved.

For anyone who has to attend conferences often and has difficulty networking (honestly a problem we all face from time to time), one potential solution is Shmoozr, an HTML5 web app designed by two developers from The Guardian.

Although developers Sheena Luu and Lisa van Gelder were only in the Bay Area for a week while visiting from London, the two women attended DevelopHer at the suggestion from other contacts they had made in Silicon Valley.

The inspiration for this app came from attending countless conferences, realizing that it might be helpful if they had a source of talking points on their mobile devices. Thus, using the LinkedIn profile and event APIs as well as The Guardian's APIs, users can get a list of attendees (if their LinkedIn profiles are public) along with latest headlines about the attendees' companies as well as their comments to articles on The Guardian's website.

Luu and van Gelder acknowledged that they would like to expand the pool of information to include other sources, such as Twitter buzz and perhaps local news from other media sources.

The judges seemed to like this project, naming it a finalist, but they advised to make sure it doesn't "borderline on stalking" and not to make it too "creepy."

Nevertheless, they all agreed that there is room for such an app in Silicon Valley.

Other projects attempted to address yet simplify much more serious issues.

MyPeeps was designed as a search engine for finding specialists and other resources for kids with autism. Already a brainchild of mGoodLife founder and CEO Melinda Cuthbert, she said she attended DevelopHer to get fresh ideas from other people about what current APIs could support this platform and experience.

Parents would be able to log in via LinkedIn and utilize the search engine for free in the hopes of being connected with highly-specialized autism services. Cuthbert clarified that another twist to this search engine in comparison to other designed for healthcare-related concerns is that users would be able to evaluate service providers, correlating parents' evaluations in finding an appropriate match.

Touting it as the "perfect app for the community doctor," Cuthbert added that the app could be popular with clinicians too because they have "as much of a problem finding highly-specialized resources as parents do in some cases."

Nevertheless, there were some more light-hearted yet business-minded projects.

That would be Maître, which means "master" in French. Essentially, this web-based app is designed to serve as a maître d' when it comes to gift shopping. Users log in using Facebook Connect, and the algorithm draws in data about the likes and interests of both the user and the user's contacts. It also lists upcoming birthdays as an extra feature.

At presentation time, the app only really uses the Etsy API, which was chosen mainly because it was more visually appealing, sprucing up the Pinterest-like layout of blocks of images throughout the page with little to no text at all -- just links via pictures to an external product page.

Despite the visual likeness to Pinterest -- and even the potential that this could answer some monetization issues for Pinterest if skewed right -- the 4-person team made up of developers from Cisco, Twitter and Constant Contact downplayed any further similarities.

"With Pinterest, it's a lot of user engagement, but this is bringing the content to you using an algorithm based on interests you already have set up on other websites," said Teresa Hu, an intern at Cisco.

The team members added that they would like to continue on with this project beyond the hackathon, potentially using APIs from Amazon, Gilt, and Living Social to boost the content library.

Brikman noted that LinkedIn is planning to reveal details about a few more public hack days later this year with different themes, and it is possible that the enterprise social network will host another female-centric hackathon in 2013.

"I love the idea of more and more women participating in hack days because often they're on the sidelines," Sinha remarked. "Hack days get you into that spirit and get you going."

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