Where Are They Now? Tal Safran is Officially a Hacking Star

Note: This is the first in a “Where Are They Now” series profiling the continued awesomeness of our 2010 hackNY Summer Fellows.

Tal Safran, HackStar

Tal Safran spent his hackNY Summer Fellowship working with Aviary. He has also participated in each of the hackNY Student Hackathons. These days, Tal continues to code, working for TechStars, hacking at the Foursquare API, and exploring post-graduation opportunities.


Hi, Tal. What are you up to these days?

I am working for TechStars. They’re a startup incubator with 11 companies. I’m here as a HackStar, basically an in-house developer. A lot of their teams only have one or two developers, so they can use as much help as they can get. I work with the different teams, rotating every week or every several weeks with different teams and on different projects for them.

Sometimes they’re building out a huge feature and need another person, sometimes, I grab designs and mark them up, and sometimes they just need an extra hand.

Each week, TechStars companies put in requests for me, and I pick one or two to work on for the week. That’s the job end of it. I also just get to be a part of the TechStars program. They have a lot of speakers and mentors come in, so it’s a very good learning experience. The programming work is also a great learning experience since I get to hop around different technologies. It’s like, “oh they’re using Node.js so I get to learn that now.”

Tal's secret hacking strategy: Going shoeless

How did you get involved?

TechStars is in Pivotal Labs’ offices, and in January they needed extra people to set the office up for cash. I had no gig at the time and came in. I saw David Tisch (NYC TechStars managing director) walking around, and he’d heard from Josh Knowles (Pivotal Labs managing director) I was looking for my next gig. I’d already met Dave through a hackNY hackathon. He knew me and trusted me, so he offered me the TechStars job that the same day. So that’s how I got the job, from building tables.

The first time I met Dave was at the Fall 2010 hackathon. After that we emailed a bit, he met up with me and (fellow hackNY alum) Max Stoller, and we developed a relationship. I think part of it was that hackNY is a good validation so Dave didn’t see us as a couple of schmucks, but rather “hey these guys did hackNY, they must be good.”

What else are you up to?

I’m also working on some side projects involving lots of Rails, and a lot of front end design. I participated in the Foursqure hackathon a couple weeks ago. Me, Max, Steve and Kate made a lists hack for Foursquare. It was made in not even a full day of work so it’s pretty barebones.

The idea is that when friends log in, they can make lists of places they’ve been, so if I made list of best pizza places I can mark off place I’ve been and see where I haven’t yet been. Another thing I can do is text the name of my list to it and it’ll add in the last place I checked in into that list. We got 60 to 70 people who created lists and got a few write-ups, including in About Foursqure.

Didn’t you do another Foursquare hack recently?

Max and I created Foursqwhere at the Fall hackathon and presented it there. It still kind of works, but parts are broken now. We didn’t win and were were really disappointed, but we made a few improvements to it anyway after the hackathon. About two weeks afterwards, we showed it at the New York Tech Meetup and got really good responses from people, including a Foursquare engineer who reached out to us and invited us to come to Foursquare headquarters. We never did, but it was cool.

With Foursqwhere, we wanted to understand what checkins told us about communities we’re a part of, like NYU. We started tracking checkins at 100 NYU buildings to sort of figure out where students are going the most and who was the NYU-wide mayor. So basically we created an NYU-specific Foursquare, including our own badges.

An RA at an NYU dorm informed us of a Foursquare night they were hosting with a Foursquare engineer. We were also featured in NYU Local and mentioned in TechCrunch during the hackathon. Also, Frank Rimalovski (NYU Venture Fund managing director) caught wind of the project and invited us to participate at a technology expo in November. Were were the only undergrads presenting there.

For both of these projects, we had random people emailing us who were interested, and we met some good people as a result.

Foursqwhere's tech expo sign

How’s school going?

I’m enjoying my first easy semester ever at NYU. I’m taking some classes for my music minor, including “History of Rock and Roll”, as well as a small algorithms seminar, and an entrepreneurship class called “Ready, FIRE! Aim”.

What’s next for you?

I graduate in May. I want to take the entrepreneurial route and start a company, but at the same time I need to pay my bills, so I am looking for work. Ideally I’ll work 4 days a week so I have extra days for my own projects. I’m guessing I’ll be working the next year, maybe less, maybe more. I’m also looking at applying to an incubator like TechStars or Y Combinator. Hopefully they’ve heard of hackNY.

Finding work hasn’t been too hard. I think hackNY helps, I honestly think that. I don’t have a resume, and I don’t plan on having one. Right now I have four separate discussions about gigs going with people, and all but one are thanks to hackNY.

I’m open to anything. The job I’ll take will be for web development, probably for a startup, or maybe a web development shop.

What are you doing away from the keyboard?

I do Bikam Yoga, usually three times a week. I’ve also been experimenting with recipes and playing guitar.
Other than that I’m hacking a lot, but that’s a good thing. I love it.

Anything you would you say to students considering the hackNY Summer Fellowship Program?

A lot of internships start and end that that’s it. But for anybody who’s been accepted or considering applying, I’d say do it without thinking twice. It’s more than just a summer job, it’s expanding your network and meeting people who will be there year round to help you and listen to you if you want to talk to them about tech stuff. It’s really cool. And there’s a lot of free food.

Thanks, Tal!