This summer, we are featuring guest posts by some of our Class of 2015 hackNY Fellows. So far, we’ve heard from Kim and Keeyon about their impressions of the Fellowship’s first half, and fallen in love with NYC all over again with Chris. Shloka introduced us to the life of a hackNY Fellow with a unique audio piece you won’t want to miss. Today, we’re featuring Merry, who thoughtfully explores what makes the hackNY environment special.  Stay tuned this week for more posts about working at New York startups!

 

Merry Mou

Startup: MongoDB
Hometown: Fremont, CA
Special Talent: Humming incessantly

 

Have you ever tried to have a good conversation with someone on the subway? The closer people are packed, the farther they are from the here and now. Eyes averted, phones out, people are on their way from point A to point B, earphones in – no one here is looking to meet someone new.

There is a time and a place for good interactions. As I’ve grown older, “Wanna get coffee?” has become a more and more familiar phrase. Sure, the coffee meeting is actually quite an effective and enjoyable way to get to understand people, but there’s always something performant and transactional about the affair. Interactions, especially with those I am still getting to know, have become scheduled, orchestrated events. The coffee is something that guarantees to unify us for half an hour, maybe an hour; we share the faces that we wear at 3pm on a weekday, and then we both go back to our own business, our own worlds.

Time and setting. As simple as it may sound, finding enough time with the right people in the right environment is incredibly difficult – and I am glad to say that this is exactly what hackNY successfully creates.

10 weeks spent living with 30-something other interesting individuals means lazy Sunday afternoons, post-work hacking and music listening, weekend drone flying and pie baking. I’ve learned more from a casual “what are you working on?” and glances at each other’s laptops, than from a pitch deck. From a conversation at 12am, than one at 12pm. From shared hours of nothing preplanned, than hours prescheduled. In those moments where people can just *be*, interactions are more serendipitous and spontaneous and above all, honest.

(I may simply be describing the “typical” college dorm experience, but as a rising senior in college, I’m starting to realize that sadly, there’s not a whole lot of this going on once I reach the “other side,” especially not at this sort of scale, with this many people. I am lucky to have this time, with these people, right now.)

Not to mention, just as luxurious is the time we get to spend with founders and other tech people through hackNY’s biweekly speaker series. In the supportive environment that hackNY has created, they graciously share their stories and insights. Refreshing truths: off-the-record tales from the founders of Codecademy, Buzzfeed, and Hopscotch, of early days; firsthand accounts of the dot-com boom from Joel Spolsky and others who lived it (here I show my age, or lack thereof); even Stephanie Hannon’s fascinating experiences as CTO of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign. All of these events are seldom rushed, and there is plenty of time for Q&A from the audience. I leave these events feeling privileged to have gotten to know a busy and accomplished individual better than I could have ever expected to.

Merry talks with Albert Wenger, a partner at Union Square Ventures, after a Speaker Series talk.

Also along the vein of creating good “times and settings,” one of my most favorite events was the tour of The New York Times office by Chris Wiggins himself, who is their Chief Data Scientist (as well as co-founder of hackNY). In a true show of dedication, about ten of us woke up at 9am on a Saturday morning to trek to the office. He may have warned us that there is “not much to see” in NYT on a Saturday morning, but honestly I came not for the office, but for Chris as the guide. 🙂 And surely I saw more than I ever could have visiting those same spaces alone.

In the midst of the crowds and chaos that can be NYC, I’ve found that hackNY is a constructive space with its arms wide open. hackNY gives us the time, space, and people for interesting things to happen. In these last two weeks of the program, it’ll be my goal to take better hold of times that are slipping by too fast, that will never be again.