A Hackathon for Women by Women

| April 19, 2019

USC students changing hacking culture from competitive to collaborative.

AthenaHacks 2019 Promo from AthenaHacks on Vimeo.

For a third year in a row, USC hosted AthenaHacks, an all-female hackathon, aimed at supporting and nurturing women in tech. This inclusive, beginner-friendly hackathon differs from other competitive hackathons.

“Athena had an atmosphere that encouraged and pushed you to do something awesome,” said Shaili Shah, a computer science master’s student at USC Viterbi. “The air was sizzling with such positive vibes! And I was inspired and proud watching all those amazing women make all those amazing things.”

The theme of the event was collaboration not just competition.

“We don’t have people pitted against each other,” said AthenaHacks co-founder Ilona Bodnar, a media arts and practice student at the USC School of Cinematic Arts minoring in computer science. “Our hackathon takes place in a supportive learning environment, and we try to make it more focused on growth than solely on who is the best.”

Throughout the weekend of April 6-7, over 400 women hackers from all over California populated the USC Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom. There were over 100 mentors and volunteers, and over 15 schools were in attendance, thus making this the biggest AthenaHacks event so far. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Bloomberg were among their sponsors this year.

Check out the photo album from the event here.

The hackers formed 74 teams who worked on products addressing a wide range of issues, from health and environment, to women empowerment and cybersecurity. Cassie Siljander, a cloud developer advocate at Microsoft, commended the collaborative environment the hackathon provided and the creativity in the products. “I definitely think it is inspiring to see all these women working together to create really innovative software products and to promote diversity in our field,” she said.

Helen Flynn, a biotechnology major at Purdue University, along with three other women, worked on developing Her2Her, a program that helps personalize cancer treatments for each woman based on her medical history and the different mutations of her cancer cells. Their product won the Best Data Science Hack award.

“I have always been interested in programming,” said Flynn. “I am a biotech major, so for a long time I wasn’t sure I was cut out for a hackathon, but hearing about AthenaHacks and the focus on empowering women in technology, I decided to take the leap and go to L.A. for the first time, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience. It has been really great to have a project that focuses on women’s wellness, as well as working with other women in technology to learn and explore and soak it all in.”

While many of the attendees had never been to a hackathon before, those who have felt very supported and inspired by everyone’s cooperative and collaborative attitude.

“At first, I was really intimidated knowing that a lot of people here have a lot of coding and engineering experience,” said Sabrina Wueste, a bioengineering student at University of California, Riverside, who was attending her first hackathon. “I am ready for my next hackathon!”

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