Those efforts "represent one of the many ways that cities, the technology community and local nonprofits can come together to help close the digital divide to address critical issues facing the community,” Granger said. "Seeing the technology and non-profit communities come together at last year’s Hack for a Cause event to tackle real local issues was truly inspiring."
The events have proven to be catalysts for inclusion in communities that haven't typically shared in the tech industry's rapid growth, including women and African Americans, said Kory Murphy, Equity and Inclusion Manager in Multnomah County's Department of County Assets.
To that end, these initiatives represent public-private partnerships to bring underrepresented groups into the field and provide a real social benefit to their communities.
"Historically, communities have been linked and connected through community centers, churches, neighborhood associations, parks," Murphy said.
As computer technology comes to play an ever-larger role in daily life and tech jobs increasingly replace legacy industries, events like hackathons become another model for innovation and equity in neighborhoods that have too often been passed over as the economy has shifted, he said.
"Seeing the Hack for a Cause model, and then seeing how in my own cultural community how we relate, how we design, how we could do things. It's saying, 'Let's mesh the two dynamics.' So you have your local tech community, local governments and your local community-based organizations. Those organizations are the ones that have the relationships in the community," Murphy said. "Projects like Hack for a Cause and Breaking the Code, they're the beginning of partnerships and relationship networks forming. You're connecting the local tech community to local government folks and workers ... and then you're connecting them to real people, real solutions, people who need the infrastructure to do what they do to serve their communities better."
The potential to connect underrepresented communities with opportunities in tech is what drew Gipps, the Eugene developer, to become a Hack for a Cause mentor last year. Breaking into the tech industry has changed dramatically since she was a student.
"When I was a kid, there weren't any of these things, there wasn't a degree, online school, boot camps. We were all just figuring it out, and you could do that. There was no requirement for a degree because there was no degree."
But while there are more opportunities now to access groundbreaking technologies, today's competitive job climate means that access isn't always equal.
Gipps said she has found a welcoming tech community in Eugene that embraces underrepresented workers. But it is still a struggle for some of those workers to stick their necks out, fearing that a single mistake will sink their career prospects.
That makes initiatives like Hack for a Cause a crucial community development tool, and a worthy use of her time as a mentor.
"That was the whole idea, making the whole thing open education, you don't have to have any prerequisites to attend. These open, supported learning environments are opportunities to even just build your resume. You go to these workshops like Hack for a Cause and you can put in your resume that you worked on a project. Now you've built a body of work, you're not just sitting around," Gipps said. "I do it just so people can have the experience of having a safe place to learn. I don't necessarily know the answers, but maybe I know people who do."