20 years into her successful career as a journalist, Christina Asquith made a change. She handed off the news organizations she founded and jumped aboard Hack Club, a tech nonprofit teaching young people to build with code through student-led coding clubs. Whether she was publishing articles about issues facing women or helping students become creators through technology, Christina has always been laser focused on bringing in voices that have been historically left out. Now the COO of Hack Club, Christina and I sat down to chat about how Hack Club is building the next generation of hackers leveraging code to make change.
Shannon Farley: You began your career as a journalist and author, reporting from Philadelphia to Iraq on women across the world. Today, you’re building the next generation of programmers as the COO of Hack Club. What’s the connective tissue between storytelling and coding for you?
Christina Asquith: Throughout my career, I’ve always believed that empowering women and girls was the most important work I could be doing – first by telling their stories as a journalist, and at Hack Club, by giving them the tools they need to create through code. As a journalist, I amplified the voices of women by founding The Fuller Project, a newsroom of female journalists reporting on issues impacting women worldwide. Now, as the COO of Hack Club, I’m proud to be helping young women, men, and individuals build technical skills to become creators and drivers of change – and in doing so, develop their own voices.
Farley: You worked as a journalist but you became an entrepreneur. How did this shift come to pass?
Asquith: When I was in Baghdad covering the Iraq war for The New York Times in 2003, few major newsrooms had female leadership. What’s more, few senior editors considered stories about women “news,” quoted women experts, or published women’s opinion pieces. I was determined to change that. My nonfiction book “Sisters in War” chronicled the war from the overlooked perspective of women and girls. Then in 2014, I founded The Fuller Project, a nonprofit newsroom of female journalists reporting on issues impacting women worldwide. We published hundreds of articles on women in every major international newsroom including The New York Times and The Atlantic, and we had the cover story in TIME Magazine in 2019.
Farley: After your incredible career, you made another shift. How – and why – did you make the transition to Hack Club?
Asquith: When I first learned about Hack Club, I was immediately drawn to how it opens doors for young people anywhere to become creators through code. Some wondered why I would leave the global journalism organization I had founded for a much younger startup. I knew that technology was behind many of the century’s biggest moments of advancement for women, and that technology’s role in empowering women would only grow. After raising $5M for The Fuller Project and taking it from a start-up to an established organization, I felt like this was my chance to help build something poised to make real change in our 21st century world – and, importantly, with girls at the forefront. So I joined Hack Club.
Today, I’m proud to say there are hundreds of Hack Clubs in 23 countries – and counting! We create a community for young hackers to work alongside each other to build real world projects, and we support them with everything from community-contributed, self-guided coding tutorials to a comprehensive leader guide. We also organize live events for Hack Clubbers with tech leaders like SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, cryptocurrency CEO Elizabeth Stark, Stripe founder Patrick Collison, and more.
Farley: As a journalist, you focused on issues impacting women. Is your role at Hack Club an extension of this gender equity work?
Asquith: Yes. At Hack Club, we foster a culture that inspires all young people to learn to code so they can build what they want to see in the world. Women and girls are super creators, so we design Hack Club to be accessible to all teenagers, regardless of gender, background, or income. It’s free, online, available 24-7, and users can be anonymous. Hack Clubbers build the experience for themselves, and create the community they want to be part of. I make sure we have speakers and role models our young women hackers can identify with, and that every member has access to resources and community to support them.
Farley: Can you tell me more about the Hack Club community?
Asquith: Our community is a really special – and defining – aspect of Hack Club. We’ve built an online community of thousands of teen hackers who are united by their interest in tech and their commitment to growing as coders and innovators. Every day, hundreds of Hack Clubbers are active in our Slack community, whether to share their projects or ask a coding question.
Farley: I’ve heard you say that the heart of Hack Club is the projects your students build. What are some of the projects girls are shipping at Hack Club?
Asquith: I’m constantly inspired by what Hack Clubbers create. 14-year-old Abby from California recently built her first app, VacLA, which matches LA’s age-qualified residents to a vaccination center near them. Across the world, Belle, a 16-year-old from Malaysia, came to Hack Club last year without knowing any code and just contributed to her first open source project. She built Hack as a Service, a free Heroku alternative for Hack Clubbers, with 12 fellow hackers from New Hampshire, Greece, California, Texas, Malaysia, and Rwanda.
Farley: If you could tell yourself one thing at the start of your career, what would it be?
Asquith: Have more confidence in your instincts. I would tell myself to take big risks, even if it is hard. The risks I did take – like leaving the newsroom for a year to be a public school teacher when I was 26, covering a war in the Middle East, founding my own organization and then passing it on to someone else – all felt terrifying at the time. Now, I know that taking these risks taught me so much of what I know, and brought me to the place I am today.