Oluchi Chukwunyere is a junior computer-science major at NC A&T University and recently helped lead a team of four students to a First Place victory at the Black Enterprise 2019 BE SMART Hackathon in Round Rock, Texas. Chukwunyere and her peers beat out 12 other teams from HBCUs around the country.
Why did you decide to pursue computer science?
I actually wanted to be a doctor for a very long time. I thought that that was the only way I could impact lives, but I realized that I hate blood. I was going through a midlife crisis at 16. That’s when I fell in love with computer science and engineering. I realized that I can literally write a line of code and it impacts millions of people, and I can write a couple of other lines and impact the world.
How did you get involved with this competition and what was it like for you to help lead the team that won first place?
It was actually my second time competing. After an application process, I was selected to be a part of the team last year as a sophomore. Last year we placed fourth but for the last two years before that A&T had won First Place so it was a great feeling to bring the title back to Aggieland this year.
Coming into this year, everybody knew that we were the underdogs, we kind of had a chip on our shoulder, but everyone was eager to work and learn and grow, because of that we all came together to win.
During the competition, your team had to answer the problem of how to enhance the experience of travelers. How did you guys come up with the solutions to the problem?
Initially the question was just, ‘How do we enhance the experience of travelers?’ and we started thinking, Who could we help enhance the quality of their experience? I don’t remember how we settled on the idea of folks who are visually impaired but once we did, we started thinking about how visually impaired travelers go about their daily lives and how can we make sure they’re empowered.
We realized that the first thing was seeing that American Airlines didn’t have speak-to-text in their app. We knew that that was something easy we could do to empower them to book their own flights. It had impact for the long run. The second feature was when it comes to people who have special accommodations, we wanted to make sure that their family members and friends have peace of mind. So we built a feature that tracks people with special accommodations so their family members can encourage them to take more flights.
What do you hope to do after you graduate?
I want to work with a company whose vision and mission aligns with mine. I eventually want to start my own company. For me, even though I got into computer science really late, there are so many people who don’t realize how many opportunities there are in computer science. I want to give back to the community so I’d like to start a technology nonprofit.
It’s common knowledge that the computer-science and tech industry is predominantly white and male. How does it feel for you, as a woman of color, to be pursuing a career in the field and what do you hope to accomplish?
The tech industry does lack a lot of people of color and females of color and me being a female and person of color, I do realize that I might be the only black woman in a group but I find it almost empowering. Then I can start the path for someone else. At times it can be hard but it’s about laying the foundation for others. It’s also about being surrounded by a great support system. At my last job, there weren’t a lot of people of color but my manager and team supported me.
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