women in stem

She's Got Game(s): How Asema Hassan channeled her passion for art into creating video games that fight dementia

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan ● VR Programmer ● DZNE

Asema Hassan is addicted to developing video games. She has channeled an early interest in art into a career creating and programming video games. Asema has a particular passion for games that can change the world for the better; games that can be used to improve education, promote personal growth, and build communities. Asema had her first full time job as a software engineer at a game studio while completing a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at COMSATS Islamabad. She developed over 35 educational games before moving to Germany to complete another Master’s in Digital Engineering at Otto von Guericke University, specializing in Artificial Intelligence. She now works as a Virtual Reality, VR, programmer for DZNE, the German Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, developing simulations and games to fight Alzheimer and dementia. Asema is especially excited about how advances in VR can increase the power and influence of games.

Asema doesn’t just create games, she is also an advocate in the game development community. She volunteers at gaming conferences and co-founded the International Game Developers’ Association (IGDA) Pakistan in 2018 to help build a community network for game developers in Pakistan. Asema is currently an Advisor and International Representative of IGDA Pakistan and actively mentors game developers in the community to create a viable career path in games and to help improve the quality of game production. She is also working with Pakistani Women in Computing (PWiC) to establish a PWiC Europe — Berlin Chapter.

Asema started her education in a school founded by her parents to educate the children in their village in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. They had lost their jobs in Kuwait after the first Gulf-War (1990–1991) and had returned home. Asema’s experience in the Jhelum Valley Public School watching first hand her parent’s passion for education, has been a constant motivation to always strive to learn and accomplish more. When she finishes one project, she is ready to move on to another. The Jhelum Valley public school has now been operating for more than 20 years and currently serves more than 350 students ages 5–16. Although the students are in a rural area where electricity and Internet access is scarce, Asema dreams someday of bringing gamification to the school to help improve student outcomes.

Asema has faced her share of challenges, but always looks to the positive. She encourages others to try to do the same.

“Never give up, no matter how hard the situation gets, keep moving forward. Enjoy every step of your journey towards a goal. But remember once, you have reached a goal you will look for another one. It’s a natural human tendency to evolve and grow with time and circumstances.”

Asema is optimistic that more women in tech will help improve the culture in ways that improve circumstances for everyone. Such as opportunities for part time work, remote/flexible work schedules, and the recognition that working too much is counterproductive. “Crunch time can be avoided by planning ahead!”

For women interested in getting into games, Asema advises not to be afraid. There are lots of opportunities and women already in the gaming industry. Look for a mentor.

“It is tough for women, but you have to stay focused on what you want. Keep learning and keep improving yourself. Find someone to support and push you.”

Rebel with Code and a Cause

Victoria Concepción Chávez ● Grad Student (Master’s Candidate, Urban Education Policy) and Research Intern at CS4RI (Computer Science for Rhode Island)

Victoria Concepción Chávez ● Grad Student (Master’s Candidate, Urban Education Policy) and Research Intern at CS4RI (Computer Science for Rhode Island)

Victoria Chávez’s teenage rebellion was taking computer science as an elective in high school. Her mother and grandmother had immigrated from Guatemala to Chicago for a better life for Victoria and had no idea what computer science was, but they noticed that people working with computers on television did not look like Victoria. They were hoping she might become a doctor. But Victoria was “blown away by all the cool things [she] could do through programming and by the sequential thinking and amazing problem solving it entailed. As frustrating as debugging was, it was the most rewarding academic challenge [she] had ever encountered.” 

Despite her family’s trepidation about her newfound passion, Victoria was hooked. When her teacher unassigned a complex hangman game as “too hard” for the students, Victoria kept at working at it for months until she got her code to work. She remembers being so happy that she cried. Victoria advocates that persistence and patience in problem solving are essential.

Victoria shares a deep feeling of responsibility to help others. At her first Hackathon, she developed an SMS-based app called SNAPy that would tell users which stores accept food stamps. The idea came from her own experiences growing up. 

Her recent work continues her desire to make a positive difference. Victoria is a research intern at Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) while working on a master’s degree in Urban Education Policy at Brown University. She is looking at ways to make computer science, as well as education technologies, more accessible to students with disabilities, including ways to integrate universal design into CS curriculum. She has found that a lack of awareness of different forms of disabilities, as well as a lack of resources, hinders this process.

Victoria has advice for future engineers: “Take care of yourself and find a support system. Hard work takes a toll on mental and physical health. You need to find people who have the same values and can help you get through the obstacles and struggles. You can help them too.”

Victoria feels lucky to have friends and mentors to help lift her spirits, remind her of goals, and give her permission to have a bad day or two. She also learned the value of making mistakes and learning from them. 

“You WILL make mistakes, learn from them and correct for the next time. No matter how much you know, there’s always something you don’t know. You have to be comfortable with that and with others calling you out on that and learning from it.”

Victoria is proud to be paving the way for future females in tech and encourages other women to do the same. One example is being an active member of NCWIT’s Technolochicas community, inspiring Latinas to create the future of tech.

“We need to get through the tunnel so we can help other women through the tunnel. If you have the mental and emotional bandwidth to get through it, it’s important to pave the way for others.” 

Her mother and grandmother still don’t understand what computer science is, but they love how happy it makes Victoria and all the wonderful opportunities it has brought her way.

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This story was written by Hillary Fleenor, Wogrammer Journalism Fellow, and told in partnership with NCWIT.