USC News

Menu Search

Hackathon founder uses technology to make people’s lives better

USC Viterbi student Brian Kim, founder of HackSC, leverages technology to make the world a better place

HackSC brings people together to solve a technological challenge, says founder Brian Kim. (Image/

USC senior Brian Kim believes in technology. His self-described “mission” is to unleash its transformative powers to improve the world.

That’s why the USC Viterbi School of Engineering double major in computer engineering and computer science founded the successful hackathon, HackSC. Kim also recently became a project manager for Code the Change, which provides local nonprofits with technical expertise to allow them to expand their outreach and effectiveness.

“He’s a role model for what we want our Trojans to be: strong leaders, compassionate, bright-minded and with a good work ethic,” said Mark Redekopp, an associate professor of engineering practice who has had Kim in three classes and serves as faculty adviser to Code the Change. “He’s not just here to take classes, but to innovate and build things that don’t exist.”

Hack attack

A longtime fan of hackathons, which he said bring people together and offer invaluable hands-on experience in solving a technological challenge, Kim was irked that USC lacked one.

So he started one.

In his sophomore year, Kim founded HackSC, which held its first hackathon in March 2014 with 250 participants.

For the next one, held eight months later, Kim and other organizers spent far more time cultivating sponsors, finding competition mentors and publicizing the event throughout the West. The result: 750 hackers, including students from Stanford University, the University of Washington and University of California, Berkeley; corporate sponsors and mentors from the likes of Apple and Microsoft; and a hugely successful event that “contributes to USC’s ecosystem of innovation,” said Ashish Soni, HackSC faculty adviser and founding director of the Viterbi Student Institute for Innovation.

Always searching for new ways to make a difference, Kim recently joined Code the Change as a project manager. Code is currently building a website and mobile app for College Knowledge LA, an advocacy group that aims to make it easier for low-income and first-generation high school students to attend college by publicizing nearby college-related events ranging from campus tours to financial aid presentations.

“Without Code the Change, we would not be able to realize our vision of making these opportunities available to youth. We’d have nothing,” said College Knowledge LA’s Executive Director Sharla Berry, a Ph.D. student at the USC Rossier School of Education. “I think Brian has shown a lot of leadership. It takes real project management and technological expertise to do something like this.”

Kim has yet to decide exactly what he wants to do after he graduates. He talks about getting an MBA or working at a big company for a couple of years or maybe becoming an entrepreneur. Whatever he does, Kim knows it will be purpose-driven.

“If I can make life for others easier or better by sharing knowledge or through technological empowerment, I will think I’ve done well,” he said.

Venturing out

Venture capital giant Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, in recognition of Kim’s intellect (a 3.92 GPA), extracurricular activities and overall potential, named him a KPCB fellow — one of only 82 chosen from 2,500 applicants from more than 200 universities nationwide.

“We like to say that we look for the best students from across the country,” said Justin Sayarath, manager of the KPCB program.

Kim will spend the summer working at the Silicon Valley education company Coursera, a Kleiner Perkins-funded firm that partners with universities to provide free online courses. He will also have the opportunity to meet executives from other KPCB portfolio businesses, including legendary venture capitalist John Doerr and former Twitter Vice President of Engineering Mike Abbott.

About 90 percent of the fellows are expected to receive employment offers from the firms where they work, Sayarath said. Kleiner Perkins believes that many will eventually launch their own startups, some hopefully in partnership with the venture capital firm, he added.

Team Kim

Kim has long volunteered his time and energy to helping others. At Troy High School in Fullerton, he served food on weekends at a local homeless shelter and tutored junior high and elementary school students in robotics.

In his senior year, he founded and presided over Troy’s first robotics club. In almost no time, he put together a talented 35-member team that won the Rookie Inspiration Award for the Southern California region.

“I derive great personal satisfaction contributing to the world,” Kim said. “Empathy goes a long way.”

After graduating from high school, he followed his older sister to USC, choosing it over the University of California, Berkeley, and other top universities. At USC, Kim wasted little time distinguishing himself inside and outside the classroom.

In his freshman year, he attended a Google hackathon. Kim was one of only two students out of the 70 hackers. During that weekend, he created a live webcam app that allowed friends in different locations to see and talk to each other over their televisions during broadcasts. Kim won the competition’s grand prize — and a Google internship the following summer.

More stories about: , ,

Hackathon founder uses technology to make people’s lives better

Top stories on USC News