HackViolet: How Ozmo supports Virginia Tech’s Association of Women in Computing annual hackathon

Last weekend, hackers lined the hallways, stairs and every lounge in the Squires Student Center at Virginia Tech’s Association of Women in Computing 2024 HackViolet hackathon. Hundreds of people came together for their pure love of coding, problem solving and the desire to empower women in technology. 

This year, Ozmo served as a bronze-level sponsor and mentored participants at the event, including hosting a live workshop teaching students to leverage API’s to accelerate prototyping by building an AI weatherman. Ozmo is committed to promoting an inclusive culture and uplifting underrepresented groups in technology – that's why our engineers eagerly seized the opportunity to participate.

What is HackViolet?

HackViolet is a day-long hackathon organized by The Association of Women in Computing, a student-led, non-profit group at Virginia Tech. The organization’s mission is to empower individuals to tackle gender disparities in technology by fostering innovation and motivation through coding. The event took place between Saturday, February 3 and Sunday, February 4.  

About Ozmo

Ozmo is a technology company based in Blacksburg, Virginia that creates software to solve tech support at scale. Ozmo’s platform assists in over 25 million support interactions each year for customers across the telecommunications and broadband spaces. Since its inception in 2016, Ozmo mission has been to answer every tech support question without human intervention.

Chris Bonadeo seated at Ozmo's booth at the 2024 Virginia Tech HackViolet event.
Ozmo's Engineering Manager Chris Bonadeo presenting Ozmo's booth at the HackViolet event.

The history of Ozmo and Virginia Tech

Ozmo has a long-standing relationship with Virginia Tech, including a number of on-campus organizations and initiatives. One group in particular is Virginia Tech’s Computational Modeling and Data Analytics (CMDA) program. Since its foundation, Ozmo has served as a sponsor to the CMDA program in which students from the department gain real-world experience as a part of their annual senior capstone assignments. 

Additionally, Ozmo’s founders, David Catalano and Aaron Herrington, are alumni of the university and have managed three different startups within Blacksburg – Ozmo being one of them. 

This year’s HackViolet event

The HackViolet hackathon was an energizing and well-coordinated event. From setting up the booth and introducing students to Ozmo's impact on tech support, to engaging in random pairings for mentoring, the experience was enriching for both mentors and students alike. The students, a bright assembly of future engineers, designers and business leaders, brought insightful questions and ideas to the table. Mentoring provided a two-way learning street, offering Ozmo’s team of sponsors a glimpse into the innovative minds of the next tech generation while allowing us to facilitate those pivotal "aha" moments for the students.

In addition to mentoring, I led a workshop titled "Warm up with Weather," where I demonstrated building an AI-powered weatherman. The focus was on leveraging APIs to expedite project development and emphasizing how innovation at hackathons can be significantly boosted by existing tools and data sources, without the need to start from scratch. The hackathon buzzed with creativity, collaboration and the collective drive of participants, making it an unforgettable experience filled with energy and intellectual exchange.

Photo of David Bates presenting about Ozmo's omnichannel platform.
Ozmo's Engineering Manager David Bates leading a workshop at the 2024 HackViolet event.

Collaboration among students and sponsors was a constant roar within the ballroom as the hackers discussed their ideas, formulated plans and settled into work. In addition to collaborating with students, the discussions between mentors, including those from other event sponsors such as Peraton, were lively and friendly. 

The importance of HackViolet and diversity in technology 

In the historically male-dominated field of engineering, the significance of initiatives like HackViolet cannot be overstated. These platforms not only challenge the outdated notion that tech is a "male-only field", but they also foster a diverse and inclusive environment where innovation thrives. 

As a male mentor, I've witnessed firsthand the incredible talent and potential of women engineers who, with the right support and opportunities, can excel in their careers. Women remain underrepresented in the field of engineering. We must acknowledge the existing biases that are prevalent within the engineering community that make it a more difficult field for women to break into. Events like HackViolet seek to make that not only possible, but more accessible. HackViolet embodies this support by offering tools and resources while cultivating a community that’s eager to see underrepresented groups succeed in tech. By backing such initiatives, we contribute to a more equitable industry and recognize that diversity is not just beneficial but essential for progress and innovation.