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What collaborative community learning and coding looks like: GirlsCode MK hackathon in action

GirlsCode - Getting Started Photo

We had a very successful and engaging weekend hackathon with GirlsCode MK, MK Hackathon and The Open University as part of our work on the diversity and inclusion vision of the Institute of Coding.

Eva Dovč co-founded GirlsCode MK, along with her wife Valerie Benguiat, over two years ago to create a positive environment for girls and women of all ages to engage with designing and programming. Dr Neil Smith co-founded the MK Hackathon organisation in 2016 as a vehicle for local tech developers to contribute to their community; he’s also a trustee of GirlsCode MK. These groups came together with The Open University over the weekend of 19 and 20 January 2019 to deliver a hackathon for GirlsCode MK members. The Open University and the Institute of Coding supported the hackathon to better understand how these groups improve access to teaching and learning about programming and reduce barriers to starting a career in tech.

It was an exciting way to spend a weekend thinking and hacking about books and libraries. The overall idea for the hackathon, a library web app, came from the GirlsCode MK members as a way to manage the group’s collection of textbooks. The first thing I noticed when joining the hackathon was the very positive and inclusive nature of people, making everyone feel immediately at home.  Over the hackathon’s two days, participants engaged with the key collaborative support activities of brainstorming and group forming; groups identified what they wanted to work on, designed an approach, and wrote the code needed to get it working.

All weekend, there was a buzz of activity and focus on what needed to be done, how to get started and how to contribute. There was plenty of help and support from others, whether they were new to coding or more advanced practitioners.

GirlsCode - Demo Group Photo
Everyone was excited when the youngest group got the first demo working!

A friendly rivalry started between those using Python and those using JavaScript — who would get the first new feature up and working?

We are all impressed when the youngest team got there first and as Eva said, ‘the future’. It’s good to know the tech industry is in talented hands if this weekend is anything to go by.

GirlsCode - Dr Neil Smith in action
Our Dr Neil Smith in action – explaining the finer points of Python

Over the weekend, over 40 people participated in the hackathon, together making about a hundred different updates to the shared software repositories. Those updates spanned all aspects of software development, from database migrations to web request processing to user experience design to documentation and testing.

We’re looking forward to seeing GirlsCode MK at the next Hackathon. Get in touch if you would like to find out more and about the up and coming Institute of Coding activities. Last but not least a huge thank you to everyone who attended the hackathon and to the wonderful support and work of the coaching team! If you want to find out more about the Institute of coding and how to get involved then please contact And for those who would like to join (or coach!)  GirlsCode MK then see

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The Open University is the UK’s largest university, a world leader in flexible part-time education combining a mission to widen access to higher education with research excellence, transforming lives through education. Our research underpins the teaching we deliver to some 200,000 students as the UK’s largest university. Nearly three quarters (72%) of Open University research was assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent in the UK Research Excellence Framework 2014.

Uniquely we operate within the four nations of the UK, with nation offices in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh as well as regional offices in England and our head office in Milton Keynes.

All of our roles play a key part in our students’ journey. We have a range of exciting opportunities for ambitious academics and researchers, as well as top class teaching and professional services roles. We offer a dynamic, inter-disciplinary research culture where academics and researchers can work creatively.

Lead Developer

Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
£40,792 to £48,677, Ref: 15805
Fixed Term Contract until 31st March 2020
Based in Milton Keynes
Application closing date: Thursday 29 April, 2019 – 12:00.

The post-holder will hold a degree (or equivalent experience).

You will be a member of the Open University team, comprising academics and technology specialists in cyber security, data science, learning analytics and distributed ledger technologies, who are leading the “University Learners” theme of the Institute of Coding (IoC – 

The Institute’s vision is to enhance the education and employability of every IoC learner and ensure that employers and individuals across the UK can access the skills they need to compete in the global digital economy. This unique and innovative collaboration has been made possible with £20m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and match funding from universities and industry partners.

Responsible for the whole project life-cycle, you will scope, develop, implement and deploy an infrastructure that allows academics to deliver to Open University students a variety of online interactive practical computing activities, e.g. on data science, programming and cyber security. You will play a leading role in the development of software systems enabling the remote operation of programming and computing infrastructure environments through the use of commercial software products and bespoke software solutions.

Interview date: to be advised

For detailed information and how to apply go to, call the Resourcing Hub on 01908 655544 or email quoting the reference number.

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