Diversity and Innovation Take First Place at Red Bull Hackathon

April 21, 2016
The Winning Pitch hackathon team.

The inaugural Red Bull "Hack the Hits" Hackathon, presented by the college music and ideas festival RECESS, brought together collegiate entrepreneurs to compete in pitch competitions to discover the most innovative companies beyond Silicon Valley.

On Saturday, April 9, five teams of impressive students showcased their technical skills and music ability. The winning team, "The Winning Pitch," pulled together the unique talents of University of Pittsburgh students Laurence Putterman and Ritwik Gupta, and Carnegie Mellon student Tiffany Jiang, who spent 24 hours on their music-tech product: an electronic string instrument. The product was improved with feedback from music and technology mentors from across the world, and ultimately demoed to a set of three judges.

Jiang, an undergraduate sophomore double majoring in human-computer interaction and design, was the only female team member at the entire hackathon. The diversity of gender and ethnic backgrounds on the winning team gave them a competitive edge, allowing them to design and present their hack from a wide range of perspectives.

The lack of both gender and cultural diversity is a huge issue in the tech industry, and is the reason that groups like Girls Who Code, Women in Tech and Blacks in Technology encourage ethnic and gender diversity among innovative companies in the U.S. 

"These sort of experiences have made me accustomed to seeing more men in the room than women,” Jiang said, “Sometimes it is a bit uncomfortable, but I've learned to own the space — I'm glad I was able to make up for some representation. It's better than no representation. I'm in a bunch of Facebook groups like Ladies Storm Hackathons that help get the word out to female hackers about tech opportunities and hackathon related events. I'm doing what I can to make a difference."

Read more about the winning team's product and the Hackathon on Forbes.com.

Story by Aisha Rashid (DC 2019)