MIT anthropologist Héctor Beltrán ’07 recalls his experience at a women’s hackathon in Mexico where, unlike similar events in the U.S., family members, including grandmothers and mothers, came to support the participants. This unusual sight of family involvement prompted Beltrán to explore the relationships between computer culture and society in Mexico, and to question the often invisible yet essential unpaid work women contribute to the infrastructure of innovation. In his new book, “Code Work: Hacking Across the US/México Techno-Borderlands,” Beltrán delves deeper into the male-dominated coding field, advocating for a more inclusive, reflective, and politically aware approach to coding in Mexico.
The book is a result of Beltrán’s field research in Mexico, an exploration of how coding practices in both Mexico and the U.S. differ, focusing particularly on the experiences and challenges faced by coders in Mexico. Beltrán highlights the distinct approaches to coding in the Global South, where coders aim to break into the established economic order and use technology for social innovations. Additionally, Beltrán addresses gender issues and the nature of hackathons in Mexico, where hackers have questioned the value of their participation and the larger corporate structures at play.
Beltrán hopes that “Code Work” will provide an international perspective on the relationship between different cultures, economies, and technology. By teaching an undergraduate class called “Hacking from the South,” Beltrán empowers students to think deeply about these complex societal issues and challenges them to apply interdisciplinary thinking in addressing these problems in the real world. Beltrán’s work ultimately seeks to question and change the established systems by encouraging powerful interventions and reflections.