Pairsona: A Hackathon Creation to Support Newcomers to the United States

Event Reflections

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At the WWCode Atlanta Hackathon: Women Take on Tech, a diverse group of people converged on Tech Square to create solutions to problems and innovations for the future. This is the story of one of the teams that arose from this process.

Women Take on Tech: Atlanta’s first ever all female Hackathon. Over 100 engineers from across the United States gathered in Atlanta for 54 hours of brainstorming, coding, and creating, to come up with ideas to change the world. After a Friday Intro To Hackathon session, and then a series of pitches to present ideas and form teams, participants separated into groups and then retreated to designated offices in order to flesh out their ideas. In this process, Pairsona was formed.

When first coming to the United States you have basic needs. Food, healthcare, shelter, language, community and support. At Women Take on Tech, a team of engineers decided to also take on this problem. Pairsona, is an answer to an issue that has faced millions of people, an answer that uses the power of apps and mobile technology to connect new immigrants to people who have already undergone the immigration process and know the important particulars necessary to survive and thrive.

Sarah Homsi

At the core of this team was Sarah Homsi, a graduate of the Jordan University of Science and Technology, and until 2012 a resident of Damascus, Syria. A talented engineer, and the winner of the Anita Borg Scholarship for Women in Technology in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Sarah understood the unique problems that immigrants faced when coming to America, and had an idea to help ease that transition.

Sarah first spoke with Filza Mazahir, Kimberly Mach, and Nivedhitha Venugopal, and together this core team of engineers began to develop the concepts that would later become Pairsona. They then pitched their idea to the Hackathon, and enlisted Samelia Brooks, Sabrina Harris, and Marissa Swanson as their creative team.

Marissa, an Architectural Designer who became Pairsona’s product and project manager, spoke about this process saying, “When Sarah, Filza, Kim and Nivedhitha presented their idea Friday night, the problem they were trying to solve was something I knew I needed to be involved with.”

Marissa Swanson

Once the team formed they began to work on the strategic and structural particulars of this concept. During this process the benefits of their varied skills and perspectives became apparent, as each of them brought very different but important elements to the mix.

Kimberly Mach, a software engineer at Boeing, expounded on this saying, “Definitely one of the key reasons that our team is so strong is because of its diversity. It was amazing to work with straight-up design people for the first time. I am continuously floored by how creative they are. Their minds just work differently than my developer brain, and that’s great! We couldn’t have finished this if our minds all worked the same way.”

Kimberly Mach

After 54 hours they had a fully thought out business model, concept, and statement of purpose. They were ready. Taking the podium at the pitch session they described Pairsona, a way to support immigrants as they made the transition to living in the United States. The idea was to connect newcomers to the country with vital social services that were available to help them succeed.

Filza, a software engineer with a passion for giving back to the community described the event saying, “The hackathon was really inspiring! I chose the social impact track as it was close to my heart, and seeing all these women get together and use technology for the greater good inspired me to do more. It gave me the conviction that I can actually use my skills to give back to the community just like I always wanted.”

Filza Mazahir

The Pairsona team has voiced their commitment to continuing the project, and they have built a website to track their developments.Nivedhitha Venugopal, a web developer at Tata Consultancy Services who is from from Chennai, India noted, “Our product was something we were all passionate about and we were amazed at the support we received from everyone. We hope to continue to make it a reality with all the resources and connections we receive through WWCode.“

Sabrina Harris, a UX Designer with over 13 years experience as a trainer and educator, spoke about her time at the Hackathon saying, “The spirit of collaboration, passion and creativity that permeated the Women Who Code Hackathon attracted me to the event and ultimately to Team Pairsona. This was a life changing experience where I gained new friends and new found confidence as a UX Designer.”

Sabrina Harris

Samelia Brooks

Nivedhitha Venugopal

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