NSS Alumni Win First Place in Global Hackathon with SafeSpace.
Last month, the Girls in Tech & Nike Mental Health for All Hackathon announced the winners for their November 2021 global event, which focused on “building an inclusive future that requires mental health and wellbeing technologies that cater to all.” The winners were none other than a team composed entirely of highly skilled and talented NSS alumni (and one almost alumna)!
We caught up with the team led by NSS Evening Instructor and Cohort 21 alumna, Dr. Teresa Vasquez, assembled by Jeressia Williamson of Cohort Evening 9, and included Yasmeen Cole of Cohort 46, Jameka Echols of Cohort 31 and current part-time Junior Instructor at NSS, and Brittany Garrett who is a current student in part-time Web Development Cohort Evening 15. Here’s what they had to say about their experience building their 1st place application, SafeSpace.!
BUILDING A TEAM
Jeressia Williamson was in the process of switching jobs and wanted to do something to help brush-up on her coding skills. When she found a post about the hackathon, she connected with the topic of mental health. Once she had decided to participate in the hackathon, it was time to assemble a team!
Jameka, who worked as the back-end developer on the team, also connected with building an application for mental health and explains that it was the perfect project to be a part of as her first hackathon. “Jeressia reached out to me and asked if I was interested in joining her team to create an app based around mental health, something that I deal with like many others.”
Jameka wasn’t the only first-timer on the team when it came to hackathons! Yasmeen and Brittany worked on the front-end of the application and shared excitement over the opportunity to grow their coding skills during their first hackathon as well.
Getting to experience working in a group of talented, Black, female developers was something that excited and inspired all members of the team. “We are all at different points in our tech careers and our jobs are pretty different. It was amazing to be able to work with a wide range of skill sets and solve problems together,” Jeressia said. “The opportunity to have two Black women on the same engineering team is rare, but to have an entire team of Black women on the same engineering team is unheard of. It was a very different experience than we were used to, but a very positive experience.”
BUILDING A WINNING APPLICATION
When asked what goes into creating a 1st place hackathon application, the consensus was clear: hard work and planning. “We spent more time planning our application than anything,” Jeressia said, to which her teammate Yasmeen added, “All of the members the team were passionate about our roles in creating this application, we were willing to learn together, compromise when we needed to, and dedicate our time to building this application.”
Jameka shared that she believes anyone can create a web application, but in order to win, your application should address a real issue that your audience is facing.
“The product should be viable and be turned into a real application used by many. The instructions were laid out to us and we collectively decided that the main issue for us, being Black women, is that we have distinct workplace trauma dealing with microaggressions that others may not encounter as much as Black women. We created an application to help heal the mental trauma that is caused in the workplace.”
“We stuck to our guns,” Dr. T, team lead and known lover (and champion) of hackathons, added. “We knew who our target users were and since we are members of that audience, we knew what we were trying to build.”
Their winning application, SafeSpace., helps Black women work on healing from workplace trauma, especially in environments where microaggressions are abundant. Users can login to SafeSpace. on any device with an internet connection; create journal entries of workplace microaggressions; follow, comment, and react to community posts; view resources and inspiration; and recommend companies that are doing diversity, equity and inclusion right.
“What made SafeSpace. a success was the research that went into it, the open communication from the team, and everyone’s openness to feedback and willingness to adapt,” Jeressia states, to which her teammate Brittany added, “The executional pieces, of course, include, build/design flow, heavy planning and outline of data, and utilizing proper tools. Safespace. was created using this outline which [I believe] made it a 1st place winner!” “It did not hurt that the application is BADASS,” Dr. T added.
Check out SafeSpace. to learn more!
BUILDING YOUR SKILLS & EXPERIENCE
If you’re thinking about participating in a hackathon, this team says it’s all worth it. Dr. T loves participating in (and winning) hackathons and believes they have a lot to offer not just new developers, but seasoned ones as well! “I think they are essential learning and networking tools to anyone who is entering the tech field. You have to be strategic about team and project selection and have good leadership and the rest is all growth and opportunity!”
“We all had a connection to NSS so I knew we were all capable of winning,” Yasmeen adds. “If you are interested in participating in a hackathon you definitely should do it! Find a group of NSS Alumni or current students and go for it. The best thing that could happen is that you all grow from it and build a closer support system with each other.”
Brittany Garrett says the experiences of learning to work with a newly formed team coupled with the benefits of personal and professional growth was all worth it for her. “Take the opportunity to stretch and grow yourself in pursuit of your goals.”
“You will learn so much and make friends along the way. Also, you can come away with something cool to add to your portfolio,” Jeressia smiles, “and possibly bragging rights!”