AthenaHacks! An Interview With One of the Founders

Shana Douglass Campus Events, Computer Science, Involvement, Shana, Viterbi Life, Viterbi Plus, Women In Engineering Leave a Comment

Female empowerment. I’m so here for it.

Female empowerment in tech… IM SO HERE FOR IT.

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to attend AthenaHacks, Southern California’s FIRST and ONLY all female Hackathon created for women by women (and USC women nonetheless!). Ladies from universities all across So-Cal came to USC for 2-Days filled with hacking, innovation, and inspiration. I however attended on behalf of Microsoft to sponsor and help judge projects. The projects were incredible, and the teams were inclusive of females of all Hacakthon experience levels. This was my first time attending a Hackathon and I can’t wait to come back next year, this time as a Hacker!

The event was so well organized, and such a valuable experience that I had to get the scoop from one of the founders. Sampurna Basu, a junior studying computer science from Seattle, took some time to tell me a little bit more about the event and the team’s inspiration for AthenaHacks.

Creators of Athena Hacks

How did you come up with the idea/what needs were you trying to meet?
Athenahacks came into existence based on our own personal experience. The founding team are all part of the Computer Science program here at USC and we’ve all seen first-hand the significant gender gap in our classes and at hackathons. For those who don’t know, hackathons are 24-36 hour marathons where the goal is to build something – anything. They have only really been in existence for 4-5 years but now almost every major university with a computer science program hosts one and tech companies recruit top talent at these events. They also serve as accelerators for those hoping to continue working on their weekend product beyond the hackathon as a startup and are a great place to meet fellow engineers with similar interests. I personally attend between 5-7 national university hackathons a semester and I can’t help but notice that there are very few people that look like me and that has a very real effect on how comfortable I am in the environment. AthenaHacks was created to be an inclusive and collaborative environment for female hackers where *female is defined as trans and non binary inclusive. The official statistic is that less than 20% of hackathon attendees are women and that’s reflective of the field in general – our mission was to close that gap. At the event, we supplemented the actual “hacking” or creation process with technical workshops for our students to learn new skills (i.e. mobile dev, game dev, etc) and as well as talks with local female CEO’s and founders to inspire them.

Is it difficult putting on a totally student led event?
An entirely student led event definitely comes with its challenges but our team’s complete dedication to the mission combined with unwavering support of many people here on campus, the event became a huge success. I was really touched by how receptive many of our event partners were when we originally pitched an all female hackathon to them. These partners range from faculty and administrators at USC who helped us coordinate logistics such as venue and security, to our corporate sponsors who provided funding, resources, workshops, and also spent an entire weekend with us! Our student team is also involved in a diverse array of activities and organizations on campus so we were able to pool our resources and previous experiences with event planning at USC for AthenaHacks. I think the fact that we were students also made us more willing to put in the long hours, many of which were late at night to make it happen no matter the obstacles. Fun fact: since a hackathon is overnight we made a “sleep schedule” for ourselves so that everyone on the organizing committee had a scheduled 4 hours of sleep during AthenaHacks weekend without leaving the event unsupervised at any given moment.

What are you goals for AthenaHacks in terms of expansion or presence on USC’s campus?
For our first year, we are very proud of what we were able to create. We had 310 female hackers from all over Southern California and achieved one of the highest hacker-to-project-submission ratios with 63 submissions that can be viewed at athenahacks.devpost.com. We were so happy that USC students were a well represented demographic among the hackers, constituted the majority of our 40 technical mentors, and all of our event volunteers. We have already begun the planning process of how to make next year and all future years even better! The majority of our outreach this year was to USC Viterbi students so a goal next year is more outreach to other departments. Technology becomes powerful when it leverages a variety of disciplines so we would love to reach out to the talent in adjacent departments such as the School of Cinematic Arts, Iovine Young, Annenberg, Roski, and more. We also want our mission to be delivered throughout the year, so we are currently working on setting up technical workshops with top companies, fireside chats with entrepreneurs, and some of the other types of events we had at AthenaHacks during the fall and spring semesters to impact even more students than those who join us for the hackathon weekend.

Needless to say it was an amazing and empowering weekend. For more info check out http://athenahacks.com

Author
Shana Douglass

Shana Douglass

Meet Shana

Want to learn more? Here's the best place to ask: