A conversation with the winners of Virtusa’s Engineering Equity Hackathon

Venkatesan Vijayaraghavan,

Head of Technology Service Lines 

Published: April 26, 2023

Technology is changing every aspect of our lives. Yet women are still underrepresented in the industry, making up only about a quarter of computing-related occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. To help address this issue, Virtusa held its first annual “Engineering Equity Hackathon,” drawing 65,000 female students around the world to use technology itself to help women succeed in STEM fields while offering meaningful learning and networking opportunities.

The winning team, Indira Gandhi Shining Star, whose members hailed from five different universities across India, claimed the grand prize for engineering a mobile app to help women learn new technical skills and prepare for a career in technology by offering personalized resources such as interactive lessons and quizzes, as well as tips and guidance on building a successful career in tech. 

The team hopes the app will help bridge the gender gap by giving women a powerful tool to help them break into the tech industry. I was excited to speak with these talented young developers –Lakshmi Harika Vadali, Sreeram Meghana, Muskan Agrawal, Saranya Seethamraju, and Shaik Muskan Sultana -- to learn more about what inspired the project and what these budding engineers plan to do next.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

First, give us a brief introduction about yourselves.

Lakshmi: Firstly, all our team members would like to thank Virtusa for giving us this great opportunity and showcasing our talents. We are very happy for winning the first prize! I was the team leader for Indira Gandhi Shining Stars. I am an information technology student and I'm currently pursuing my third year. My interests are machine learning and deep learning, and I would love to be a developer.

Meghana: I would also like to thank Virtusa for giving us this platform to showcase our talent and encouraging diversity among the community. I'm a student specializing in information technology. I always wanted to develop a technology that can impact the world or make some kind of positive difference in the people’s lives.

Muskan: This wonderful hackathon gave us a lot of learnings. I'm currently pursuing my bachelor's degree. I'm in my final year, focused on my career goals and what I would like to be in the future. I want to be a software developer and my aim is to create an impact wherever I go.

Saranya: I'm currently pursuing my bachelor's in engineering, and I’m in my third year. I would like to be a machine-learning engineer in the future. 

Sultana: I'm pursuing third year at college. I am a computer-science engineering student. My career goals are to contribute my skills and learning to emerging technologies, and I'd like to become a web developer. 

What was your inspiration to be part of this event with Virtusa?

Saranya: I feel hackathons are a fantastic way to learn new skills and technologies. By working alongside other talented and passionate individuals, we are exposed to a wealth of knowledge and expertise that can help us grow and improve ourselves as a developer, designer, or an entrepreneur. We also get an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who share a passion for innovation and creativity. 

What was your experience during the activities around the hackathon?

Muskan: First, we had a coding test, then we moved to the development round where we brainstormed ideas and were also told about the tech stack that we can choose. There were many one-to-one conversations with our mentors as well as the HR team. I experienced many things, like how to communicate with other people, how to understand each other and work as a team, and how we should proceed in such a manner to produce results. 

What was your favorite part of the hackathon?

Sultana: My favorite part of the hackathon was to team up with everyone, the discussions and development. We believe that our app can have significant impact on the representation of women in STEM education. And because of my team and our work as a team, I learned premier skills.

How did you come up with this idea? What was the basis for it?

Lakshmi: The hackathon itself was for encouraging women in the tech industry. We found out the reasons why women are reluctant to join tech industry, or why are women are facing issues in becoming developers, and all we just concentrated on solving that part. The main issue is finances. In general, women's education is given less priority. So, we thought that if women can educate themselves and don't need to depend on others, they can use their skills to learn some other new skills. Then they can independently “learn and earn” at the same time. That was the foundation for our project.

What challenges did your team face when working on this idea and bringing it to reality?

Meghana: We were all remote, so communication and the diverse tech and diverse environments were the challenges we faced. The first challenge we faced was coordinating our efforts and effective communication. To overcome these challenges, we regularly talked on video calls, and we created deadlines to complete our tasks. Another challenge we as a team faced was that we wanted to produce a unique idea that stands out. We made a significant effort to recognize what are the challenges faced by women.

What advice would you give someone who has never attended a hackathon before?

Muskan: First, I would tell them that you should always try new things, even if you think you will not be able to complete it or contribute to the team. A person should first accept himself or herself and know that you are valuable – only then can you contribute. If you are taking a part in a hackathon, you should understand what it requires and try to give your best whatever the circumstances. This was my first hackathon and I think same goes for the other team members. We were not aware of how things were going to work and there were some technologies we had to learn. 

So, what does “engineering equity” mean to you?

Saranya: I've always been extremely passionate about technology and innovation. So being able to work with so many passionate and like-minded people, to come up with a creative solution to a real-world problem is something that truly excited me. Secondly, this hackathon was also important to me because of the cause that it supports. Knowing that the solutions we create here today will have a positive impact on society and might make a huge difference in people's lives is incredibly motivating. This hackathon also provided me the opportunity to learn and grow. I think it has given me immense strength to face challenges and work under pressure.

Learn more about the Engineering Equity Hackathon and how Virtusa is promoting diversity and inclusion in tech.

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