Simon Willison’s Weblog


This shouldn’t be the image of Hack Day

19th October 2009

I love hack days. I was working in the vicinity of Chad Dickerson when he organised the first internal Yahoo! Hack Day back in 2005, and I’ve since participated in hack day events at Yahoo!, Global Radio and the Guardian. I’ve also been to every one of Yahoo!’s Open Hack Day events in London. They’re fantastic, and the team that organises them should be applauded.

As such, I care a great deal about the image of hack day—and the videos that emerged from last weekend’s Taiwan Hack Day are hugely disappointing.

Hack Girl dancers at Open Hack Day Taiwan

Hack Girl dancers at Open Hack Day Taiwan

Hack Girl dancers at Open Hack Day Taiwan

(These are still images from the video—the original has been taken down).

Seriously, what the hell?

I’ve heard arguments that this kind of thing is culturally acceptable in Taiwan—in fact it may even be expected for technology events, though I’d love to hear further confirmation. I don’t care. The technology industry has a serious, widely recognised problem attracting female talent. The ratio of male to female attendants at most conferences I attend is embarassing—An Event Apart last week in Chicago was a notable and commendable exception.

Our industry is still young. If we want an all-encompassing technology scene, we need to actively work to cultivate an inclusive environment. This means a zero tolerance approach to this kind of entertainment. Booth babes, tequila girls, and scantily clad gyrating women simply set the wrong tone, here or abroad. Heck, this isn’t just about offending women—many guy geeks I know would be mortified by this kind of thing.

Hack days are a celebration of ingenuity and creativity. Past US hack days have featured performances from Beck and Girl Talk, both of whom embody the creative spirit of the event. Sexy dancing girls? Not so much.

I’m not the only one who’s disappointed.

Caterina Fake:

@Yahoo, for shame : I’m frankly disgusted.

Chad Dickerson:

i am *so* disappointed: remember, a team of women delivered the winning hack at the 1st one:

There was a flurry of activity about this on Twitter yesterday. I sat on this entry for most of today, partly because writing this kind of thing is really hard but also because I was hoping someone at Yahoo! would wake up and release some kind of statement. So far, nothing.

Update (1:30am): Chris Yeh of YDN has responded with an appropriately worded apology.