The first ADDIHACKS hackathon held February 8–10, 2019 at California State University Long Beach was an exciting 48 hours of competition and camaraderie among the 100 or so participants. The event featured college students, coding bootcamp students, and professionals divided into 16 teams. Their challenge: Creating solutions for the Smart Cities & Future of Work.

The gathering of computer programmers, designers, and UX/UI project managers was hosted by the American Digital Diversity Initiative (ADDI) in collaboration with California State University Long Beach, and Sabio Enterprises. Sponsors included the Long Beach Community Foundation, Microsoft LEAP, Sabio, Bonfire Ventures, and Tala, along with a generous grouping of community partners.

“We are creating a hackathon which is inclusive, which is free and is very accommodating. This gives people the opportunity to create solutions, prove their resume, and develop additional skills,” says Liliana Aide Monge, Sabio CEO. “At the end of the day, they become stronger candidates so when companies like Microsoft or Google are looking to hire more women and more diverse candidates, they will find that talent they so desperately need.” She adds, “There’s a digital tsunami heading toward us. We see it on the horizon. We see the Bureau of Labor talk about the million opportunities in tech that are going unfilled. That is a very big problem.”

Helping tackle this problem is Yolanda Natal-Santos, Business Program Manager with Microsoft’s LEAP Program who was at the hackathon seeking new talent to hire. “LEAP was created as a way of augmenting our pipeline to be more diverse and more inclusive. We recruit nontraditional candidates to become software engineers and technical program managers,” she explains. What I have found at this hackathon is that candidates come with a lot of passion and grit. They come from different backgrounds. This makes them an interesting, viable candidate for us in the program. She adds, “My favorite quote is, ‘Talent is equally distributed, but an opportunity is not.’ Having these hackathons and bringing the community together is certainly an opportunity they may not have had otherwise.”Prior to the hackathon and with the help of Garrett Whelan, department co-head and assistant professor of computer and office studies at Long Beach Community College (LBCC), Yolanda had the chance to present to the LBCC computer science majors about the opportunities Microsoft Leap has to offer.

In addition, one of our community partners, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hosted a panel discussion about the careers in tech. Their workshop provided insight on such topics as cyber security and software engineering.

Yolanda Natal-Santos was also one of six judges that included Alejandra Montoya-Boyer (Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Qiana Patterson (Director, Public Partnerships HopSkipDrive), Dakota Ortiz (Program Lead at AnnenbergTech), David Molina (Founder, Operation Code), and Chantelle Silveira (Chief Product Officer, Ranker).

Women hackers at the event may have been in the minority, but their presence was strongly felt. Christa Tipton, a member of the all-women team, brought her skills as a social worker. “I love being a social worker at a hackathon because so often it’s more for people who know about business, or who are engineers, or developers, but they want to do something for the social good. And sometimes they need our direction on whether something will or will not work.”

Hacker Jackie Diu also offered needed direction. While she didn’t attend college, she is self-taught and brought a disciplined DIY spirit to her team. “I taught myself JavaScript along with other tools. All front end for now,” she explains. Her front-end expertise was the balance her team needed to develop their crime data mapping application focusing on community safety.

‘Community safety,’ ‘civic engagement,’ the ‘future of work,’ and ‘smart transportation’ were the four categories the teams were asked to choose from in developing their applications. Interestingly, the top winning team, Good Neighbor, chose community safety, garnering the $3,000 prize. Second prize went to team Trolli, that focused on smart transportation for a $1,500 prize. And third place winners, Promotored, developed a mentoring LinkedIn platform focusing on the ‘future of work’ theme to take home the $500 prize.

The five Good Neighbor team members — Bobby Oh, Chris Han, Dominique Nguyen, Griffin Romley and Henry Lee — all agreed that the hackathon was a challenging, exciting, humbling and inspiring experience. Their inspiration for the app stems from their own experiences in life having a good friend, team, person, or even stranger that helped them. They wanted to create a platform that anyone could use to receive help or to help someone, and further streamline this to the general public.

For the interface, they were inspired by the Waze navigation and live traffic app they used to get to the hackathon; steering them away from traffic and potential accidents. With this in mind, a neighborhood watch app for residents living in isolated areas away from traffic would offer considerable safety. The vast number of reported crimes they saw from the Long Beach Data API, confirmed the need for such an application.

American Digital Diversity Initiative (ADDI) is planning to expand its hackathon reach next year. “We’re looking at bring ADDIHACKS to Washington, D.C. in the Spring of 2020,” says Executive Director Peter Rojas. “We have immediate support from two of our board members in D.C. Our goal is to expand the discourse around diversity in tech and policy initiatives that can propel change.” He adds, “This hackathon has been a new and exciting experience — and is just the beginning.”

We invite you to visit our Facebook page to experience the excitement of our hacakathon.

Prepared by Lucy Birmingham & Peter Rojas