Supporting Women in IT with the Berlin Geekettes

Together with the Berlin Geekettes, a network for women in IT, SAP recently took the opportunity to organize a different type of hackathon.

It is no secret that it is still relatively hard to find women in IT. However, opinions differ as to the reasons. Although the number of female IT students has risen in recent years, the visibility of women who opt for a career in the IT industry has not improved.

This is why SAP, together with the Berlin Geekettes, decided to hold a weekend hackathon at the beginning of June to showcase female IT talent. Taking “Talent and Technology Solving Today’s Challenges” as their motto, developers and designers had the opportunity to work together to develop innovative solutions and spend an entire weekend turning the vision of a “Digital City” into reality. The SAP Innovation Center in Potsdam, Germany, was an ideal location.

At the start of the hackathon, participants got the chance to present their own ideas for a “Digital City” and to drum up support. Based on the ideas proposed, teams formed and were free to develop their solutions on the basis of SAP HANA until midday on Sunday. SAP employees were there to support the teams in using the SAP technologies provided. Because of the limited time available and their enthusiasm to develop a presentable solution, most participants slept very little during the weekend. This made the energy and enthusiasm that was palpable in the Innovation Center, even early on a Sunday morning, all the more astonishing.

Navigation app for getting home safely takes top prize

For many participants it was their first taste of an event of this type. “I didn’t expect such a relaxed atmosphere. Even though every team wants to win, there is still a great sense of cooperation,” commented computer science student Janina-Kim.

When asked about his reasons for attending, Jonas, a business IT major, stated “I wanted to get to know the company and find out how SAP software works and, in particular, what SAP HANA means. Thanks to the support from the SAP employees, we were able to progress quickly even without prior knowledge of SAP software.”

And the results were impressive. In the end, the “Get Me Home Safe” team convinced the jury and won first prize: a trip to Silicon Valley to present their solution to an SAP executive from Products and Innovation organization.

The winning solution is a navigation app for smartphones that figures out a safe way home. For example, it avoids quiet streets, dark wooded areas, or areas with a high crime rate.

Ute Benz, an interface design student and member of the winning team, was clearly overwhelmed by the win and described her experience at the hackathon: “My personal highlight was working with developers. As a design student, I usually work only with designers and we just program as best we can. But this time, I had an opportunity to work on solutions with proper developers. That was an amazing experience for me, and lots of fun!”

The “What’s My Carbon” team, who developed an interactive tool for energy consumption trends in cities, also impressed the judges and were invited to take part in the two week long “Smart Energy Summer School.” The “Smart Pooling” team, who tackled the issue of increased self-consumption of renewable energies, won the Climate-KIC prize and were invited to pitch their idea at Europe’s largest cleantech competition, the CleanLaunchpad.

Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP, concluded by urging participants to improve their visibility in the world of IT and thereby contribute to a more diverse working environment.

“Technology is going to change the way we work, we behave and is critical to drive a culture of innovation, sustained growth, and profitability,” said Wittenberg. ”Nothing has a greater impact on SAP’s long-term success than the creativity, talent, and commitment of our diverse people. Their ability to understand the needs of our customers and to innovate delivers sustainable value to our company and society.”

Jess Erickson, one of the two founders of the Berlin Geekettes appealed to participants to act as role models: “We have to be realistic: Women are still underrepresented in IT. To change this, we need a cultural transformation, from the bottom up. Women need to be more visible – whether at conferences or other events – so that they can meet other role models and act as motivators for others. You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The hackathon organized by SAP and the Berlin Geekettes has done just that: achieved visibility.

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