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New Women-only Hacking Event Smashes the ‘Google Glass Ceiling’

, KQED Science | September 6, 2013 | 4 Comments
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Libby Chang and Liza Gere at the first women-only monthly meet up for Glass developers.

While app-makers still await the official release of the Glass Developer Kit (GDK), a body of test projects has grown steadily since Google Glass’ release earlier this year. Early experiments with augmented reality – including the Field Trip app for Glass, which is now officially available —  facial recognition and even piloting a drone have made their debut to early adopters.

Mozilla developer Lukas Blakk welcomes the group to their first meetup.

Mozilla developer Lukas Blakk welcomes the group to their first meetup.

Empowering Women in Tech

Now some tech leaders are trying to ensure that women get in on the trend too.

Lukas Blakk, a developer at Mozilla — the non-profit organization known best for its Firefox internet browser — said she wants to help guarantee that the hip new wearable computers are not just for “White Men Wearing Google Glass,” as spoofed on the humorous Tumblr blog of the same name. Blakk recently hosted the first Glass meetup for women developers, and said she hopes this monthly gathering will become a regular opportunity for networking and other Glass pursuits.

“Part of what I do, as a Mozillian, is create outreach opportunities to empower women in tech with a focus on open source,” she said. “So I create curriculum to teach aspects of web development, hardware hacking and anything else I’m interested in learning in order to share the excitement I have for technology and open innovation with others.”

The event was held Thursday night at Mozilla’s San Francisco offices.

Blakk said that when she first learned about Google Glass — as well as about how exclusive the initial Explorer program was — she wanted to get some Glass to share with others. In glancing over the Glass Developers community on Google+,  she noticed that only a handful of names/avatars on there indicated a member was likely female.

A diverse group of women -- from experienced developers to those new to coding -- joined this inaugural group of attendees.

A diverse group of women — from experienced developers to those new to coding — joined this inaugural group of attendees.

“Right now, there will be Google developers listening closely for feedback on Glass development attempts in the wild,” she added. “So we need to make sure women’s ideas and the barriers they hit trying to accomplish them are heard.”

Glass Enthusiasts

After Blakk welcomed participants to the workshop, everyone divided themselves up into groups based on their expertise with particular programming languages: Python, RubyJava, C++ and Android Studio. There were several women, like Tricia Cerone, who are avid Glass users and were interested in connecting with other female early adopters.

“Even though I’m not a programmer, it seemed like a great opportunity to get together with women who are interested in Glass,” she said. “This is the second event I’ve been to. The first had about 70 people. There were maybe 4 or 5 women, so this is pretty exciting.” As a nurse, Cerone said she is looking forward to seeing how the new technology can be used in public health.

welcome screen

Libby Chang, who works at San Francisco State University’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, first encountered Google Glass from her husband.

“He got a unit from I/O 2012, and I wore it more than he did,” she said, laughing. “I’m kind of interested to see what more I can do with it. I want to learn how to develop, which I haven’t done since college when I was an undergrad studying industrial engineering. So this will be a long journey, but it will be worth it.”

glasswkgroup

Natalie Villalobos, a Community Manager at Google+, said that many women feel the way to change the world is through non-profit groups.

“With the technology industry, actually, it’s ‘I can build an app for that. I can do my own indie capitalism, build that in my garage, build a prototype, sell it on Kickstarter and get a million dollars in funding,” she said.

Villalobos said she plans to strengthen her own coding chops. Her “20% time” project at Google is focused on women and technology. She has helped create and oversee a Google+ community called Women Techmakers.

“I think events for women developers are great in that you don’t get to hang around a bunch of nerdy women all the time and it really builds community,” — developer Susan Salkeld

Hacking Glass

One group was led by a staffer from Hackbright Academy, which runs engineering fellowships for women programmers. Director of Operations and Instructor Liz Howard said they are trying to come up with an app that “as you’re walking down the street, you can tag locations to visit later and share with friends. So we’re just trying to fire up an API real fast, send some slides to Glass and then we’ll work on the details of the project later.”

python group

Anne Spalding, who teaches a web development training program run by Dev Bootcamp, hasn’t produced anything for Glass yet.

But as a fellow cyclist and skier, she said she hopes to use it for sports.

“I think there might be a nice application to graph your speed or heart rate or something else that you would normally have to really look at and process,” Spalding said.

After trying on a pair of Glass for the first time tonight, developer Susan Salkeld said she is excited over the prospects of wearable technology.

“You don’t have to pull out your phone anymore, and it’s one less thing to have in your hand. I think it might be the future of technology,” she said.

And as a big fan of NPR, Salkeld said she wants to explore how she can enhance the user experience for public radio fans with Glass.

ruby group

Next Steps

By the time the meetup came to a close after three hours, the women chatted about other projects and made plugs for upcoming events, including an Arduino hackathon and a mobile apps youth hackathon. Blakk has already organized the next “Women Hacking Glass” event for October and formed a Google+ community.

Want to learn more about Google Glass? Check out my ongoing series for KQED Science.

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Category: Engineering

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About the Author ()

Jenny is happy to wear multiple hats at KQED; she works as an Interactive Producer for the Science & Environment unit and blogs for Bay Area Bites, KQED's popular food blog. Jenny graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Film and Television program and has worked for WNET/PBS, The Learning Channel, Sundance Channel and HBO.
  • lsblakk

    What a great write up, Jenny! Thanks for coming out and participating!

  • missdk

    So jealous! Wish I lived in San Fran for this.

  • BusiGram App

    This is very interesting and disheartening at the same time… When talking about the tech field needing to diversify in regards to encouraging more women to step into development and tech leadership roles, the same group of people don’t see how limiting things can be if ONLY the same locations keep having conferences and meetings.

    I am a minority woman app developer. I don’t live in or near any of the “Tech Development” Mecca’s… As I am sure there are other women developers (non/minority) who find themselves in the same predicament.

    Question : How does anyone expect to see more women faces if they continue to go to the same locations to speak on the subject matter? Common sense would tell one that perhaps the wider net needs to thrown out in order to catch more and potential fish.

    One doesn’t know that there other qualified women out here if one doesn’t venture out from their homebase.

    But on the other hand, it’s nice to see that there are women out there (in Cali) who are able to partake in said events… Just wish there was an effort to bring on MORE minority women…

    It’s one thing for Blakk to say that she doesn’t want to make Glass something that only White males partake in when the majority of the people she’s talking to are White females.

    Regards,
    JLouise

  • Aakriti Ghai

    it is really a women empowerment event. I like the inclusion of women either it is social or technical aspect of life. To make women confident is very important.

    see the link google glass illegal while driving