The following interview was originally published in the HackNY FieldGuide for the tenth hackNY hackathon where hackNY celebrated the graduation of its fifth class of hackNY Fellows. Kyle Ryan ’14, interviewed a selection of fellows during the summer to discuss what made them tick.

Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

Matt

Matt Condon goes to Louisiana Tech and worked at Magnetic in Chelsea as their hackNY fellow.

Where’d you grow up?

I grew up in Louisiana. I had a few struggles growing up. Most of my time was spent around Louisiana area. I went to Louisiana tech mostly because it was free for me. Up until now, I was an EE and Physics major. But now after doing hackNY, I’m going to switch to being a CS major.

What’s your biggest struggle right now?

Time is really a struggle. I think we all have felt that. There’s so many possible routes I could go on. I just want to do ‘everything’ but know that I can only do one or two of those things with the time I have. It reminds me of the proverbial triangle between Friends, Academics and Family.

What advice would you give the person you were 4 years ago?

Mostly, I just stopped worrying. I spent most of my high school worrying about failure or about getting good grades. Once I stopped worrying and caring about what other people thought of me, I was free to do the things I’m doing now.

Where do you see yourself 4 years from now?

I’ll probably figure out how to take a quarter off of school to work at a place like Digital Ocean. I’d want to do an internship every winter quarter until I graduate. That way I am able to get experience while still going to school.

Everything I’ve done, and even though this sounds crazy, points to building an exoskeleton suit like Iron Man. It’s the perfect combination of everything I love ’96 electrical engineering, computer science and physics. If i’m able to be involved in something like that, I would extremely enjoy it.

The following is a selection of images created by Lisa Luo during the summer speaker series as a member of the class of 2014 hackNY fellows. We’ll be posting a selection of Lisa’s doodle’s every Wednesday for the next few weeks. Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

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The following is a guest blog post by Calvin Chan about his summer as a member of the class of 2014 hackNY fellows. The original article can be found at Calvin’s blogWant to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me about New York. Sometimes, it’s regarding this whole “hackingNY” thing that I was a part of this past summer. And other times, it’s about my fascination with Manhattan and the greater NY area. But most of the time, the questions are just about how I manage to keep missing my flights out of Newark. But first, an anecdote.

A while back, I watched a movie that follows Justin Timberlake as he takes on his new job as the new Creative Director for GQ magazine. To add much needed drama, of course, Hollywood had JT relocate from Los Angeles, presumably, to the oh-so-packed metropolis of Manhattan where, upon arrival, he meets the arguably “gorgeous” Mila Kunis in what could be better described as a shitshow welcoming.

In a fashion as expected of a young and naive Calvin after watching a typical Hollywood RomCom, I imagined life as JT. I pictured myself sleeping in a huge penthouse apartment, leading GQ’s creative team from the seat of my personal room on the 42nd floor of a high-rise office building. New York seemed like an awesome place to be.

During my time in New York, I did not do any of the above. Instead, I stayed in a small NYU dorm room (for most of the summer) and worked as an engineer at a small startup in SoHo. And most surprisingly, not once, NOT ONCE, did I find myself meeting up with Mila Kunis (what a shame).

So it’s safe to say that living in New York was nothing like No Strings Attached (err, I mean Friends With Benefits). There was none of the glamour that JT so heavily bathed in, none of the exorbitant lifestyle that Hollywood so easily portrayed, and no Mila Kunis (okay, last Mila Kunis joke, I promise). Instead, there was a community of hackers that I can now confidently call family, a team of coworkers that, both, pushed me to become a better engineer  and, admittedly, way too many visits to Saturdays and Two Hands. And I loved every single minute of it.

HackNY

HackNY - Class of 2014

In the beginning of summer, I started a blog post about HackNY. I also told myself that I would update it every day. That didn’t happen (I’m surprised I even got to day three).

Before I go on, I need to establish that no blog post of any length will ever do the fellowship justice. My HackNY experience just can’t possibly be fully articulated in words. But I’ll try my best. First off, the nitty-gritty:

The HackNY fellowship is a 10 week program that brings together around 35 students from schools around the world to live in New York for one summer. The fellowship matches each student with a startup for a concurrent engineering internship. The fellows are connected with prominent members of the New York startup community including, but not limited to, founders, investors, journalists, and professors.

That sounds like an entry out of the dictionary, so let me explain. I spent ten weeks living in Palladium Hall (an NYU dorm) with around 30 other fellows, all of whom are brilliant engineers and, more importantly, amazing people. My fellowship class brought in students from colleges around the world, from as far West as Claremont McKenna to as far East as NYU Shanghai. These students are all amazing engineers who have all helped shape the collegiate tech community (or, excuse me, the hackathon community) into what it is today. For ten weeks, we lived together, went out to bars together, got kicked out of bars together, watched Germany annihilate Argentina together, made chocolate truffles together, and, of course, hacked together. Regrettingly, we did not go to any punk/metal shows together.

I spent my days working as a Product Engineer Intern at Skillshare. Every morning, I hopped on the 6 train from Union Square and got off the Spring Street station in SoHo. Most days after work, I would attend a hackNY talk by an awesome member of the NY startup community. In those ten weeks, I’ve visited a handful of well-known tech companies (think Buzzfeed, Foursquare, NYTimes, Codecademy, etc.) to hear from people like Joel Spolsky (StackOverflow), Samantha Jon (Hopscotch), and Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures). Needless to say, most days when we had talks were long and tiring (I would leave my room at 9:30AM and probably get back at around 10:30PM), but I had no complaints. Everyday, I learned something new, and that’s not something I think many people can say about their internships/fellowships.

Those ten weeks went by way too quickly. By the ninth week, I sort of had this weird, unsatisfying feeling that I didn’t even get to bond with some of the fellows much. But yet, tenth week rolled around, and by the end of the last night (to be fair, I don’t think the last night ever actually ended, per say) we were all treating each other like family.

To say that the fellowship ended after ten weeks would be misleading. I experienced that first hand almost immediately after I left. I reunited with a lot of my friends and got to meet some of the alumNY. In fact, I’m typing this right now on a plane, on my way back from a hackNY reunion in New York. I’ve definitely developed even stronger relationships with hackNY and its alumNY these past few months, and that brings with it a feeling I just can’t put into words.

HackNY Fellows at HackMIT

Interning at Skillshare

Skillshare

As a hackNY fellow, I interned at Skillshare, an online learning community that helps users master real-world skills through project-based classes. Most summer internships last about ten weeks. I was at Skillshare for just under four months, having extended my internship beyond the ten week timeline of the hackNY fellowship.

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Six. When I started my internship, I was the sixth engineer on the team. Granted, there were a few engineers who’ve come and gone, but on my first day, there were 5 other engineers besides me. That was the first indicator that I was in for an experience unlike any other. It was different than what I was used to; my previous internships, prior to working at Skillshare, were all with teams of more than 10 engineers. From day one, I was treated no different than any of the full time employees. I was responsible for all of my own code, and contributed heavily to the platform codebase. There were several nights when I was the last engineer in the office, finishing up features for the next day.

Product Engineering – Move Fast and (Don’t) Break Things

One of the most valuable skills I learned while interning at Skillshare was how to analyze user interaction data and react to changes in that data. We were constantly experimenting, pivoting, and iterating. A lot of effort was put into A/B testing various features, user experience, and interaction flows; if something didn’t work, we would quickly rollback the changes or try something different. I learned how to make sense of different metrics by observing how the team utilized data analytics to support sprint priorities.

As an engineer, I often feel protective of my code; a sense of ownership often accommodates each feature/module/package I ship. As such, it’s often cringe-invoking to see a feature be scraped in the middle of production. Many times this past summer, I had to stop working on a particular feature because data showed that it was inefficient, or did very little to improve the platform. Several times, I had to drop what I was working to prioritize another feature or experiment. Though disappointing at times, I helped develop a more user friendly platform; through iterating and experimenting, I learned how to place the product before the engineering.

Q3

My internship started in May, near the end of the second quarter for the company. Sometimes, I wonder if it was just plain luck that I entered the company at the start of a new quarter, mainly because I was able to take part in the planning the goals and milestones for the next quarter. And on that topic, to celebrate the end of Q2, Skillshare rented out a huge beach house in the Hamptons for the quarterly retreat.

Beach House in the Hamptons

I mean, if that wasn’t the perfect way to start an internship, I don’t know what would be. We stayed in the Hamptons for a week, spending a lot of time discussing the goals and priorities for Q3. The engineering team, in particular, isolated specific aspects to focus on for the third quarter (i.e. platform stability, security, etc.). We spent most mornings working, but implemented daily siestas. It was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know the rest of the company, and by the end of the week, we were all sunburnt cornhole champions.

One of the most satisfying things was being able to see the company progress through the quarter. For example, during those few months, I think we went through at least 3 different membership models, working to figure out the optimal way to increase user conversion. Because my internship lasted through the entire third quarter, I was able to see which goals and milestones were met, and how the company changed as a whole through the quarter.

OKRs and 1-on-1s

Skillshare adopted a system of identifying goals and priorities coined by Google as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Essentially, each employee had to identify personal key results that they wished to achieve each quarter, quantifying each objective with key results that could be used to qualify progress towards the completion of the objective. In addition, each team would create team OKRs, identifying what the team as a whole would work towards. By establishing both personal and teamwide OKRs, each member of the team would be able to commit progress towards personal development as well as the development of the company.

Personally, I established three clear objectives for the quarter that I was at Skillshare. I wanted to

  1. Become a better full stack engineer
  2. Contribute a key feature to the Skillshare platform
  3. Help ensure the stability of the platform

I also established various key results under each objective (most of which I’m happy to say I knocked off).

  1. Become a better full stack engineer
    a. Work with technology I was unfamiliar with
  2. Contribute a key feature to the Skillshare platform
    b. Ship an essential component that would improve the platform
  3. Help ensure the stability of the platform
    c. Help diagnose an error or failure

Every week, I had a sync up with my manager, Angie, about my progress towards my OKRs. These were called 1-on-1s and they were opportunities for me to discuss what I had accomplished and what I would like to accomplish in the upcoming week. In addition to talking about my OKRs, I was also able to talk about anything else that I had questions about or other things I wanted to achieve. By the end of my internship, I had pushed some Ruby code to the Chef cookbooks of our dev environment (prior to this, I had never worked with Ruby), helped ship a data bootstrap component to reduce the number of AJAX requests, and took part in diagnosing a few critical bugs and failures.

Quarter 3 Retreat - My Last Day at Skillshare

Living in New York City

Five words.

I freakin love this city!

The following interview was originally published in the HackNY FieldGuide for the tenth hackNY hackathon where hackNY celebrated the graduation of its fifth class of hackNY Fellows. Kyle Ryan ’14, interviewed a selection of fellows during the summer to discuss what made them tick.

Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

Sruti

Sruti Modekurty currently attends Carnegie Mellon University, she worked at Birchbox this summer as a hackNY fellow.

Where’d you grow up?

I was born in India but my family moved to California when I was a baby and I grew up there. My dad is a hardware engineer, my younger sister is learning to code (finally convinced her), and actually pretty much everyone in my family is either an engineer or doctor. I have a lot to look up and live up to!

From an early age I knew I wanted to do something with computers. Sometimes my dad would teach me things, like taking apart a computer. I was pretty lucky because I happened to join a robotics team in middle school. I continued it throughout high school and that convinced me to study engineering.

I never really gave a second thought to being a woman in tech because growing up I was taught that I could do whatever I wanted. It didn’t matter that I was a girl.

Have you had any revelations in the past few years?

I realized the world is never going to be perfect. But I can still make an impact. I figured out that I do have the capability to change the world for the better, I think everyone does. Some people just act upon it more than others.

What is your biggest struggle?

I’m always battling time. There are so many things I want to do and experience but I feel like I never have enough time. Sometimes I end up doing too many things, and I lose sight of what truly matters.

What advice would you give the person you were 4 years ago?

Four years ago I was in high school and I was incredibly shy. I was so afraid of talking to people. The advice I would give myself is be confident. Don’t let your insecurities define who you are or who you think you can be. You think people are noticing things about you, but really, they are too wrapped up in themselves.

Where do you see yourself 4 years from now?

There’s so much potential to use technology in a high impact, meaningful way. I feel like some startups are too focused on making incremental changes to the lives of people who already have a nice life. I want to use technology to save and really improve lives. I’m still figuring out how to do that.

The following is a selection of images created by Lisa Luo during the summer speaker series as a member of the class of 2014 hackNY fellows. We’ll be posting a selection of Lisa’s doodle’s every Wednesday for the next few weeks. Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

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Attention awesome NYC startups: hackNY is pleased to announce that applications are now open for hosting a member of NYC’s next generation of talented developers and engineers: the class of 2015 hackNY Fellows!  Startup matching will occur on a rolling basis so be sure to apply early via http://apply.hackny.org/startups/apply .

A few things to keep in mind:

Startups applying to work with a hackNY Fellow are making a commitment to the following:

  • to provide a concrete problem for the Fellow to work on
  • to provide a specific person to mentor the fellow
  • to provide a place for the Fellow to work — the startup must at least have dedicated coworking space if not an office.

Startups are eligible to work with hackNY if they

  • are independent (i.e. not acquired)
  • have their development team headquartered in NYC

The hackNY Fellows program, now entering its fifth year, is an intense program designed to introduce students to NYC’s startup community by pairing the best technical minds with the best NYC startups. The hackNY Fellows program includes housing as well as a pedagogical lecture series covering all aspects of founding or joining a startup. Previous fellows have come from all over the US and Canada, majoring in a variety of subjects, with skills including front-end, back-end, data science, and design. Don’t take our word for it though: please see this video created by the class of 2011 hackNY Fellows:  http://bit.ly/hackNY2011vid, or this description of ‘Why You Should Do hackNY’ by a member of the class of 2012 hackNY Fellows:  http://hackny.org/a/2012/08/students-heres-why-you-should-do-hackny/.

Please to do contact us at info@hackNY.org with your questions.  Also, hackNY appreciates any feedback on the timing of the process hosting a hackNY Fellow or anyway other ways we can better partner with you.  Please let us know by email (at info@hackNY.org) if you have any suggestions for future processes.

Best,

Team hackNY

The following interview was originally published in the HackNY FieldGuide for the tenth hackNY hackathon where hackNY celebrated the graduation of its fifth class of hackNY Fellows. Kyle Ryan ’14, interviewed a selection of fellows during the summer to discuss what made them tick.

Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

Walter

Walter Menendez goes to MIT and worked this summer as the hackNY fellow at MongoDB in Times Square

Where’d you grow up?

I was born in LA, but grew up in Maryland. My parents broke up when I was young and my mom remarried. Growing up, my mom was a housekeeper. She commuted back and forth to Washington DC working two jobs. I was the only one who learned English proficiently. When I went to school, I spoke English; Then, to communicate with my parents, I had to speak Spanish.

I remember when we got our first computer at the home when I was around 8 years old. My parents didn’t know anything about the internet. for school, all our assignments were posted on the internet. I think my curiosity pushed me a lot to just explore what the computer did. I would tinker around with different things. My parents realized they couldn’t help me as much as they wanted; When I would do homework, they would watch me do it even though they knew they couldn’t help me.

In high school, I went to a very academically challenging magnet school. When it came time to apply to college, I was a first generation college student. My parents knew they couldn’t help me but they promised to sign any forms and pay for tests. All of the colleges I got into promised to give me most of the cost off. They all saw my financial situation and were willing to help me. I chose MIT because I wanted to be at a place where I could just explore and absorb information. MIT was really the place for me to meet people and be free to explore things.

What’s your biggest struggle right now?

I want to take advantage of the time I have during my last year at MIT. The biggest thing that affected me growing up was my mom’s attitude towards me. She wanted me to have a better life, and she did everything she could for that. I feel an obligation to help her and give back in the work I do. Knowing everything will work out in the end is very important. Because no matter which way life turns, everything will be okay in the end.

The following is a selection of images created by Lisa Luo during the summer speaker series as a member of the class of 2014 hackNY fellows. We’ll be posting a selection of Lisa’s doodle’s every Wednesday for the next few weeks. Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

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The following interview was originally published in the HackNY FieldGuide for the tenth hackNY hackathon where hackNY celebrated the graduation of its fifth class of hackNY Fellows. To mark this occasion, the class of 2014 sat down with hackNY co-founders and co-presidents Chris Wiggins and Evan Korth to discuss what brought them together.

Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

EKandCW

CW: Between 2001 and 2008, the NYC economy just kept growing. Back then, internships with banks were pretty common. It was the default location for bright young minds in NYC to start a career. Students that didn’t know what to do would go into banking because everyone else was. In the middle of all the change in the NYC economy, I thought it was the perfect time for NYC engineering faculty to lead a counternarrative. I really wanted to help keep kids off the street – Wall Street. Around that time, Nate Westheimer from NYTM told me I should talk to Evan Korth at NYU.

EK: Our different backgrounds brought us to the same place. I became a professor, well, the way most people do — I was a sports agent for 8 years.  For most of the 90s, I represented female basketball players.  I started before the WNBA so we sent our players all over the world.

Even as a sports agent I found I was always writing programs to solve problems in our business. I’d been passionate about programming since I used my money from delivering newspapers to buy a computer when I was 11. It was a TRS-80 with 16k RAM and no hard drive. I mostly stopped programming around 14 or 15 for a bunch of years, but it was missing from my life. I went back to NYU to get a masters in CS for fun.  I built software for a company as part of a class; then got hired by that company in 1999. It was sold in 2000 at the tail end of the dotcom bubble.

At the time I had a fear of public speaking, but was given the opportunity to teach a programing class in PASCAL, and that’s when I fell in love with teaching.  So I started teaching full time but still consulted a bit with startups around the city.  I also started being the faculty advisor for several student groups at NYU.  Startups weren’t popular at all then.  The image of startups was damaged quite a bit when the bubble popped. Our enrollment dropped.  The dominant story about tech jobs was that they were being outsourced overseas.

That changed when the economy collapsed in 2008 and momentum started turning back towards people wanting to build new companies again.  By early 2010, we both thought there was an opportunity to do things differently — to build something lasting in NYC. First, we could improve the connective tissue between academia and the startup community. Second, we could help foster a community of people with a love of building, who aren’t just doing startups for the money.  Both these things might help make the community more resilient.

CW: We read and thought a lot about what happened/happens in Silicon Valley. Everyone has different stories about why Silicon Valley happened. Each group X says “it was the groundbreaking people of X”. I’m an academic so I credit the academics, they were the earliest to move things, in 1930’s in Silicon Valley, and it created a tight talented network of engineers sustaining the SV ecosystem.  Look at the story of HP: one of their first customers, Disney, was another former student of Professor Terman. When Shockley Transistors went down, there was a strong network of engineers, who could go to Fairchild, and then they left and formed Intel.

We realized we can help engineers find each other, build a community, and then get out of the way. Really a lot of the best programs from my technical background were in this style. And as an educator, I think that’s really the best thing I see happen in higher ed — the opportunity for talented students to find out that there’s other like-minded talented students, to learn and bring out the best in themselves and each other. It’s a very different kind of learning from reading a book, or watching a video, or even from solitary coding.

EK: Within weeks of meeting, hackNY was founded. Two months later, we held the first hackathon — the first student hackathon ever. There we announced the summer intern program which quickly became the summer fellowship program after we received sufficient funding from the Kauffman Foundation to provide housing. The pitch was “we’ll save kids from the Street.”

As for school advice, do one thing well.  Kick ass at what you love. At hackNY, we look for students who love to build no matter what major they choose. We want to build a resilient network, regardless of the economics of the day. We want to empower people who enjoy building.  We would like to see a community of people who are good at what they do and share what they love with others in the community.

 

The following is a selection of images created by Lisa Luo during the summer speaker series as a member of the class of 2014 hackNY fellows. We’ll be posting a selection of Lisa’s doodle’s every Wednesday for the next few weeks. Want to become a hackNY fellow this summer? Checkout apply.hackny.org.

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