Earlier this month, I helped organize AthenaHacks 2020, USC’s all-female hackathon! Hackathons are 24-36 hour events where programmers (sometimes from all over the country) come together to collaboratively code and build projects. At the end of the event, many of these teams submit their projects to be judged. Winners often receive really cool prizes, from drones to sometimes even internships! However, only 10% of hackathon participants are women, which is astoundingly small. AthenaHacks aims to provide a beginner-friendly, all-female environment that helps remedy this issue. This year, we hosted our 4th AthenaHacks at Ronald Tutor Campus Center + Bovard Auditorium. The event was particularly special this year since it coincided perfectly with International Women’s Day!
This was my second year organizing the event, and it was great having last year’s experience under my belt. As a member of the marketing and design team, most of my work takes place before the event (such as helping develop the website, designing swag, and creating other promotional materials). On the day of, I’m in charge of photography and running around to help my other organizers with tasks that need to be done!
AthenaHacks always begins with an opening ceremony. This year’s keynote speaker was Ruthe Farmer, an incredible woman who’s currently the Chief Evangelist for CSforALL, and has previously served as the Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.
Next, the hacking begins! Our sponsors this year included Microsoft, Google, Facebook, IBM, Bloomberg, Honey, Oracle, Activision and more! We also had a number of food sponsors who provided amazing snacks throughout the weekend.
Throughout the hackathon, sponsors hold workshops for the hackers on things such as Natural Language Processing or Intro to iOS development. We also hold fun social events— this year’s highlight was a TikTok Workshop!
The next day, hackers finish up their projects and submit them to prize categories for judging! After judging, winners and prizes are announced at the closing ceremony.
This year, we faced some challenges in dealing with COVID-19, which at the time, was still mostly concentrated outside the US. To deal with this, we ended up giving hackers the option to attend virtually. We streamed our opening and closing ceremonies, and many sponsors also held their workshops online. While all these last minute changes were stressful, I think our team coped incredibly well and learned a lot of lessons that will be useful going forward!