Like many other “blerds”—Black nerds—from across the country, Kat Calvin traveled far from her home in Washington, D.C. to Austin, TX for South by Southwest, or SXSW, an annual music, film and interactive conference being held on the weekend of March 7.
She made the journey in support of Blerdology, a social enterprise to create a collaborative hub for blerds founded by Calvin and partner Amanda Spann. This year, Blerdology will host its own “hack-a-thon,” an event where dozens of designers, coders and programmers join teams to build themed web and mobile applications for start-ups and businesses.
Blerdology’s #blackhack Hollywood event is sponsored by Black Enterprise and PBS. The 12-hour hack-a-thon will see teams of tech gurus collaborate on specific projects for the two media companies, with winning teams seeing their projects put to use.
“#Blackhack brings together the Black tech community. There are a good amount of coders out there who don’t know each other,” said Calvin.
Calvin, 29, earned her undergraduate degrees in theater and religion at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts at a time when Facebook was in its infancy and before iPhones existed. She did not have the foresight to take any computer science classes or major in a science, technology, engineering, or math field. Equipped only with basic coding and HTML skills, she has pushed herself to become more tech-literate.
A serial entrepreneur, Calvin first founded Character’s Closet, a website which recreates the outfits of favorite TV and movie characters at an affordable price point. Both she and Spann, another web business owner, sought chief technology officers for their respective ventures, and in October paired to start #BlackGirlsHack and hold a hack-a-thon event in Atlanta which sought the perfect techies to bring on board.
Their event was a success, as the women each found chief tech officers, but also realized the lack of opportunities for collaboration within the Black technology-oriented community.
“We brought together the original Black tech community. We became a catalyst for them to begin working together, collaborating and supporting each other,” said Calvin.
As a part of a rebranding, Calvin and Spann changed #BlackGirlsHack into Blerdology, because many male programmers and designers thought the events were for women only.
Blerdology relaunched in February as an online and event-based hub for Black techies allowing Black scientists, journalists, programmers and designers from around the country to share stories and write content for one another while engaging in forums.
In addition to their SXSW event, Blerdology is gearing up for hack-a-thons around the country, including a hack-a-thon in New Jersey from April 4 to April 7, and another event in Detroit later this year.
While Bledology is still in its infancy and is actively looking for sponsors and investors, Calvin and Spann hope to promote STEM education and push more collaboration between “blerds.”
“The big hope now is that girls and boys…no matter what their interest is, be it music or cooking, that they are learning the tech side too,” said Calvin.