A Hackathon to Empower Women

| March 12, 2021

5th annual AthenaHacks hackathon enables over 400 women and non-binary students to create apps, games, and more

Keynote speaker Sarvenaz Myslicki (left) and Jillian Khoo, AthenaHacks programming lead (right), answer questions from hackers at the 2021 AthenaHacks opening ceremony. Photo credit: AthenaHacks USC.

Keynote speaker Sarvenaz Myslicki (left) and Jillian Khoo, AthenaHacks programming lead (right), answer questions from hackers at the 2021 AthenaHacks opening ceremony. Photo credit: AthenaHacks USC.

“If you’re feeling like an imposter, in your first job, in your classes, in this hackathon, just remember that in the long run, effort matters,” said Sarvenaz Myslicki in her keynote speech at the 2021 USC AthenaHacks hackathon. 

Myslicki, a longtime leader in the technology sector, kicked off the hackathon on March 5, 2021. She spoke about her experiences as a women in tech and gave advice about how to navigate the feelings of inadequacy and break free of them to pursue a successful career.

“In the beginning of any endeavor, confidence and prior experience matters a lot,” said Myslicki, who created a following for herself on TikTok by creating educational videos about careers in tech. “But ongoing success in tech is so much more than that. When you’re working on the same code base of dozens of other engineers, it’s about coordination and collaboration. ”

The spirit of coordination and collaboration was apparent throughout the 5th annual hackathon focused around empowering women and non-binary students in the world of technology. Every year, teams of USC students compete to see who could create the best app, game or product. The groups have 24 hours to complete their product and pitch it to a team of judges.

In the competition, participants had the freedom to make whatever they wanted, however they wanted.

“I want people to come to AthenaHacks and realize that they can learn literally anything in a weekend.”

Jillian Khoo

“We’re here to give our participants the tools they need to build their first technical project about anything that excites them,” said Jillian Khoo, the lead for programming at USC AthenaHacks

Khoo, a senior who will receive both her B.S. and M.S. in computer science from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in spring 2021, has been involved with organizing AthenaHacks since her freshman year. She recalls first trying a hackathon in high school, and being overwhelmed by the vast technical knowledge of her peers.

“I went to the event and felt like I didn’t have enough experience to build a project,” recalls Khoo. “I felt pretty lost at all the workshops and ended up leaving early.”

AthenaHacks is designed to be far more open and welcoming to beginners than the average hackathon. This year’s event involved various beginner’s workshops to help participants learn the basics, including tutorials on topics such as game development, cloud-connected virtual reality software and web app development. 

“I want people to come to AthenaHacks and realize that they can learn literally anything in a weekend,” said Khoo.

AthenaHacks rewarded winners in the Best Overall Hack and Best Beginner Hack categories. Corporate sponsors were able to sponsor their own prizes in specific categories, including the Disney-sponsored Best Entertainment Hack and Zynga’s Best Mobile Hack. 

The winner of Best Overall Hack was “Iago for Dementia Rehabilitation,” a combined medical device and application designed to help dementia patients remember their loved ones.

“We created Iago as a tool to help people with dementia reconnect with their loved ones in the form of an easy interactive memory exercise that is easily accessible for the elderly,” said Jenny Lee, one of the creators of the project.

Over 70 groups submitted projects to the AthenaHacks 2021. The winners of the prizes can be seen below:

AwardProject
Best Overall HackIago for Dementia Rehabilitation
Athena's FavoritePenny's Programming Adventure
Best Beginner HackEyeScream
Pinnacle Hack Winner at AthenaHacksTastee
Best Use of Azure for Social Good Sponsored by MicrosoftrhythMind
Best Entertainment Hack Sponsored by DisneyAstoria and the Mysterious Realm
Best Mobile Hack Sponsored by ZyngaCosmoCare
Best Hack In Finance Sponsored by BloombergPeer Energy
Best AR/VR Application Using the echoAR Platform, Sponsored by echoARV Tour
Best Domain Registered with Domain.com - MLHBeyond the Horizon Line
Best Use of Google Cloud - MLHFEM: Future Emerging Medicine
Best Hardware Hack Sponsored by Digi-Key - MLHTraining Liason
and
Iago for Dementia Rehabilitation
Best Use of CockroachDB - MLHWomen Empowering Stock Portfolio

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