WSW 2014: How Cristina Dolan Brings Philanthropy and Programming Together at TradingScreen

Computer science and programming may have nothing to do with charity and philanthropy, but TradingScreen's Cristina Dolan looks beyond the ones and zeroes to coding and see the human faces.

Wall Street Women Charitable Works Award Winner

Cristina Dolan


For Cristina Dolan, computer science has opened up a wide variety of career opportunities. As co-founder of the Internet service provider OneMain in the early dot-com days, she led her startup to a successful IPO before eventually selling it to EarthLink. In her current job as head of content, marketing and communications products at TradingScreen, she has successfully developed TradeChat for communicating with other users of TradingScreen’s TradeSmart platform.

So when Dolan was approached about developing an event to promote computer science and the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math), she set out to create something that would showcase the spectrum of opportunities computer science can make available.

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“I first thought that there are a lot of wonderful hack-athons out there, but at hack-athons no one can really see the work that goes on,” Dolan said. “I wanted an event where people could be motivated by the outcomes, and where people could look onstage and see people standing there with their creations.”

Encouraged by the CEO of TradingScreen Philippe Buhannic and by her alma mater, MIT, Dolan created a code-athon contest called “Dream it. Code it. Win it.” Open to college and high school students, the contest required entrants to do two things: create an application that solved a problem, and create a video telling their project’s story.

“When you solve an interesting problem, it’s engaging because you are talking to people who actually have the problem. It’s creative, and it’s fun, and afterward you feel good about what you’ve done,” Dolan said, adding, “If you solve a problem that people want solved and are willing to pay for, then you have a business.”

The concept must have struck a chord because four of the teams that showcased their applications at the contest ended up starting their own companies.

In total, the contest attracted more than 100 submissions. Through leveraging her contacts from the MIT alumni association as well as from her professional network, Dolan raised funding to award $70,000 in prizes and attracted executives from companies like Google, Yahoo and Forbes to attend the event to hand out prizes. The second annual code-athon is already being planned for April 2015.

In addition to attracting corporate support, Dolan also sought to attract students to computer science who might not have thought of getting a computer science degree. Less than 2 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, she told Traders, and the percentage of women is even lower.

“Computer science isn’t about sitting in corner and coding; it’s a creative discipline,” Dolan said. “The idea is to get a more diverse group of people to look at this in the same way that a painter looks at a palate of colors.”