In linguistics, “code switching” is the practice of alternating between two different languages within one conversation. People do this conversationally to try to fit in, or to help the other party understand the context of their message.
In her Tedx Orlando talk, “The Cost of Code Switching,” Chandra Arthur discusses growing up black in America, and how she was taught from a very young age to code switch to be taken more seriously. The tech founder and CEO of an app called Friendish, Arthur explains how this practice, while critical for black people to be seen as a “non-threatening person of color,” is actually a danger to true diversity. People who are societally expected to code switch, spend more time focused on learning how to speak to fit in than they do living, creating businesses, or solving community problems.
This weekend’s “Code Switch” tech event, embraces the idea of celebrating true diversity. It brings together people from all backgrounds, with all different experiences, to help solve problems that the community faces, allowing people to be uniquely themselves to bring ideas and solutions to the table. A weekend-long hack-a-thon, Code Switch is focused more on the brainstorming of ideas and solutions than being focused on getting applications built to completion in one weekend. The goal of the event is to find sustainable ways to use technology to disrupt inequity.
Coordinated by Software for Good, Techquity, and Open Twin Cities, this year will be the fourth Code Switch event and will take place at the Osborn370 building in St. Paul. It coincides with the National Day for Civic Hacking, and Code for America representative, Veronica Young, will be on site to work with the groups and inspire innovation.
Sharon Kennedy Vickers, CIO for the city of St. Paul, is one of the event organizers. Vickers says that the number of people at the event is not how they measure success. “Success, for us, is measured by the ideas generated.” And the event is not just for tech-focused people. Vickers wants everyone to feel welcome and included in this process, “We bring the individuals directly impacted by the issues in, to be a part of the solution.”
Saturday at 9 a.m., the event will kick off with a panel discussion between civic leaders to discuss the challenges they face and the successes they have had in the community. This discussion is aimed to be a thought-provoking kickoff to brainstorming how technology can be integrated to solve prominent issues. As Vickers put it, this event is, “centered around thinking creatively about issues, looking at the root cause, and finding people-centered solutions.”
There is a small registration fee for attending the event this year, and organizers are taking donations to help provide scholarships to participants who may not be able to cover the cost of entrance. The event could also use more volunteers to offer mentorship and coaching to participants. Those interested in helping can find more information and contact information on codeswitch.mn.