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damilola awofisayo coding tech
damilola awofisayo coding tech
Photo courtesy of Damilola Awofisayo
Life > Academics

Duke Sophomore Damilola Awofisayo Is All About Getting More Women Into Tech

For 19-year-old Damilola Awofisayo, a Princeton Prize winner and computer science major at Duke, coding wasn’t always a passion. “It’s really funny because I do a lot of coding now,” she tells Her Campus in an exclusive interview, “but I really did not like coding at all starting off.” Growing up in Nigeria with unstable electricity, computer science and technology just didn’t seem like it could be a beneficial resource to Awofisayo. Things changed when she first came to the states and started attending Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia, where she was required to take a computer science class as a freshman. To her shock, she ended up genuinely enjoying it. “I finally felt like I had a tool that I could use for making the change that I wanted to see in society,” she says.

Since then, Awofisayo has kicked down many barriers within the technology industry. Along with her 2022 Princeton Prize win and being a 2024 winner of Her Campus’ 22 Under 22, she is also a 2021 Apple WWDC Swift Student Challenge winner thanks to her hackathon nonprofit, TecHacks. Co-owned by her best friend Erika Ramirez, TecHacks’ mission is to “creat[e] a supportive environment for girls everywhere to create, problem-solve and showcase their talents alongside like-minded females to compete and work with.” Between 2020 and 2021, TecHacks hosted one of the largest student hackathons per year, reaching over 800 students from more than 60 countries. Awofisayo not only puts on the hackathon itself, but also runs coding workshops and an annual fellowship through the nonprofit organization. This year, the Swift Student Challenge application opens on Feb. 5, and is meant to support and uplift the next generation of developers, creators, and entrepreneurs.

TecHacks was ultimately set in motion after Awofisayo attempted to become involved in hackathons, but was rejected from multiple when applying. TecHacks was born with the vision of empowering people at its core, but also allowing opportunities for people who don’t participate in this field as often to have a chance to do so. “So what we did was exactly that. Have a hackathon, but with a different focus than any other hackathon we’ve seen, with the focus of female and non-binary students, but not only in the US, but also around the world.” Damilola explained. When it came to picking the team behind TecHacks, Awofisayo and Ramirez purposely chose international representatives in places like Mexico, Canada, Rwanda, and India in order to have a global perspective within the organization. Tech partners that were chosen for the hackathon were also internationally-rooted. “It was something that I felt really strongly about because I have roots in Nigeria,” Awofisayo explains. “My co-founder has roots in Venezuela and Colombia.” Both women recognized the need for underrepresented groups to have an opportunity to participate.

By competing in several hackathons and coding competitions, Awofisayo has built over 10 mobile apps and coding projects focused on social good — one of which received recognition from Apple’s CEO Tim Cook at the 2021 Worldwide Developers Conference. She still puts focus into coding and supporting hackathons at other universities today. 

When asked how it was possible for Awofisayo to be successful in building her nonprofit and various projects, she says, “I would be nothing without the people who supported me as early as my parents, my mom and my dad, my aunts and my uncles.” She also credits her mentors for helping her make connections in the field. “We were connected to Girls Who Code through one of my mentors,” she says. “A lot of our volunteers came from the mass of speakers that we got. So not only is that great for just building your network, but also it’s that these are the people that I see myself becoming.” In a field that is constantly evolving, having mentors to walk you through a complex terrain and offer insight is invaluable. 

As for what Damilola is up to now, she’s working to make a difference within the realm of AI. She and her friend Christopher Arraya are currently working on a startup called Skalara, through which they hope to utilize AI to help aid small businesses and companies by lessening their project management workload. Awofisayo recognizes the importance of this innovation for those who don’t have the time or money to put into project management. Using generative AI technology to fill that gap can be extremely beneficial, and help smaller businesses compete on the same playing field as larger companies with more resources. 

Reflecting on her why when it came to founding TecHacks, Awofisayo says, “After getting rejected multiple times, I was like, ‘Alright, let’s take a step back. Why do I really want to do this?’ And [I came to] really understanding I do it so I can empower other people.” Ultimately, a lot of what Awofisayo does is motivated by empowering others. Empowering women and non-binary students from other countries was a big part of TecHacks, and Awofisayo’s goal is to continue inspiring marginalized communities to get involved in the technology field. “That’s the thing that I’m working on right now, just trying to continue to make [computer science] not only accessible, but also use it to empower people and all other fields, too.”

Addie Whightsil is a Public Relations student at the University of Oklahoma. Beyond academics, Addie's interests extend to the simple pleasures in life. She has an undeniable affection for juice, savoring every drop of its fruity goodness. Her fondness for Jellycats, those irresistibly huggable stuffed animals, adds a touch of whimsy to her daily life. However, what she really loves is sharing personal stories and life lessons for the internet to read.