How Rejection From Hackathons Led 18-Year-Old Developer Damilola Awofisayo To Create Her Own
Photo Credit: Damilola Awofisayo

How Rejection From Hackathons Led 18-Year-Old Developer Damilola Awofisayo To Create Her Own

A high school student is shattering the glass ceiling!

While attending school in Nigeria, Damilola Awofisayo remembers unstable electricity disrupting educational lessons. At the time, Awofisayo and her classmates were not exposed to the solutions that existed in the world of computer science. Nearly four years later, Awofisayo moved to the United States and would attend Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia.

The computer science-driven school encourages all students to take a course in the field before graduating. Awofisayo did not understand the value of computer science initially. With that said, she planned to take the course her senior year of high school but a counselor placed her in the course her freshman year instead and the rest is history!

“Within the first three weeks in the class, I fell in love with computer science. It was my tool to create solutions for problems I had seen in my society and with my experience living in Lagos, Nigeria,” Awofisayo said to AfroTech.

TecHacks

Awofisayo’s love for computer science led to a growing interest in hackathons. She applied to various organizational positions for hackathons during her sophomore year but she was greeted by multiple rejections.

It was not long before she was forced to reexamine the hackathon and computer science community. The current senior realized women were highly underrepresented within the field. In response, she and her friend Erika Ramirez found a solution through TecHacks.

“The field is moving rapidly and the trajectory is still really unknown. I felt like as a Black girl and Black student in computer science, I could make the change that it needs right now to make sure that it’s accessible and it’s inclusive as well as efficient and impactful for people across the world of all backgrounds,” Awofisayo said.

The nonprofit and hackathon organization provides female and non-binary students professional mentorship, community, and opportunities in computer science.

TecHacks’ biggest initiative is the summer hackathon, which has helped over 950 high school and college students across 60 different countries. Students hoping to find clarity in their professional pursuits have a space to explore as TecHacks offers various interdisciplinary competitions including health, social justice, and finance.

In addition, TecHacks offers a three-month fellowship program for students. Participants create a project of their choice backed by mentorship and a $400 grant to support hardware, educational opportunities, coding language, and more.

Using Computer Science To Solve Societal Issues

What’s more, Awofisayo’s mission to improve the world is just beginning. The student participated in the Congressional App Challenge consecutively during her junior and senior years. The competition was created to inspire middle and high school students to learn to code and pursue professional opportunities in computer science, according to the company’s website.

In their first year, co-founders Awofisayo and Ramirez joined heads to create Ask Sam. The application integrates a chatbot to address various perspectives in political topics including healthcare, taxes, the economy, and more. Ask Sam also provides resources to supplement or complement what users already know.

It was also a part of Awofisayo’s mission to address the food waste crisis. Hyper focused on amateur farmers, Plantry was created to help local crops grow. Planters can track their plants, watering times, harvest dates, and track the best locations to grow crops in various weather conditions. In addition, the application offers image detection models to help farmers recognize over 60 plants and the most common diseases.

Staying busy, Awofisayo also participated in Apple’s WWDC21 Swift Student Challenge. She created an interactive playground leading to a winning spot. Perks included a year membership in the Apple Developer program.

“I believe that I am creating the next generation of computer scientists to be more diverse, not only in the users but also in the creations,” Awofisayo said.

She continued: “With my application that I did for the Apple Swift Challenge, there was a focus on bridging the gap between students with dyslexia and students who are member members of the hard of hearing and the deaf community, making sure they have the educational resources to succeed. I’m trying to bridge the gap and make sure technology is accessible for everyone.”