Where Are They Now: Ian Jennings Jablonowski Will Soon Hack at Facebook

In this installment of our “Where Are They Now?” profiles, we talk to 2010 hackNY Fellow Ian Jennings Jablonowski, who is continuing to build out his project from the 2011 hackNY Spring Student Hackathon. Ian will be interning with Facebook this summer.

Ian, what are you up to these days?

I’m going to school working on products I did before the summer, and working on my major. Recently I’ve been working on b00st, the site I started after the Spring Hackathon. It’s a social news site like Reddit, but in real time. As votes come in, the numbers go up on new comments in real time. I want to move news into that area.

Can you tell us more about it?

I want to grow a large realtime community and see what possible features to introduce. It’s a newer idea of community and the forum is like modern forum. PHPbb is old school and you can’t really tell the difference between one forum and another. 4chan is similar to other image boards. Reddit and Digg look similar, too. I want to push the envelope a little bit, to innovate on that.

What are you studying at Rutgers?

I’m an information technology major. I’m more interested in how people use computers rather than how computers serve people.

I’m also into info visualization, making data look like art. I’m working on a cool project in one of my classes related to bus transit. It’s called NextBus and lets you see when the next bus is coming on campus. It shows you where they are and what the next stops are. The script runs every minute and shows how long it really takes for the bus to get there, as well as the average wait for each bus on campus by day.

I’m also minoring in digital communications. One of my most interesting classes for that this semester was on strategic presentation. We learn how to make videos go viral, creating projects for non-profits. I’m helping a non-profit radio station. We’re making videos and trying to get word out and find volunteers for them.

What have you been up to outside of classes?

Since last year I took up drums. I’m doing pretty good and have a kit in my room . I’m not in a band yet, but I’m pretty comfortable on them and am able to play a few songs. It’s only been a few months, so I don’t expect too much of myself.

I’ve also been working on Rutgers Reddit, which has exploded recently.

Recently I took part in and won a contest at Rutgers called Hat Chase where seven people in crazy hats walked around different parts of campus. Teams competed to broadcast the hats’ locations to as many people as possible and have those people broadcast the information to their networks. It was really about how people share things with their network, how to share information in real time about emergencies and how to report and organize. The project was part of CCICADA, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence.

I started building a team by using Reddit and 2011 hackNY Fellow Abe Stanway stepped up to help lead the team. We used GroupMe as our main way to report information and had team members on each campus watching for the hats. I think we won because the goal was to see how information travels across social networks, and we had good documentation. The prize was $4,000, which we split between our team of 20.

Also I’ve been working as part of a research group for the past two years helping with code and data harvesting. One of the projects is a network for concerts to aggregate information like set lists and videos shot at the concerts and archive all of the new media that gets produced during the show.

Whatever happened to your Fall 2010 Hackathon winning project?

Rooster.am launched and it’s free to use. It’s a fun thing to keep up and running. People like it and use it. I haven’t been trying to monetize it, but I enter it in contests every now and then. It’s not something I’ve actively working on anymore, but people say it’s useful and that it works for them everyday. The biggest complaint is that the rooster sound is annoying, but it’s kind of fun, I feel.

What else have you learned since being a hackNY Fellow last summer?

I’ve changed from being an all-around person to specializing more in the front end and user experience field from where I was year ago, just trying to do everything. Now I’m trying to focus my talents on front end stuff.

I knew I was going this way because of the hacks I was doing. Hacks are either very technical or visual/cool. Most either show you data or a pretty finished Twitter clone or something. I was always trying the cooler, impressive-looking kinds of things rather than focusing on data crunching and performance. That’s what I liked to do in my spare time. Also, when I applied to intern at Facebook, one of my professors said, “I’m gonna send you to the UX people.” I asked him why and he said, “That’s where you’ll fit in, that’s exactly what you should do.” He knows what I’m good at and what I’m bad at.

I always liked doing design and creating ideas more than the actual execution. I used to be a LAMP stack guy and now I’m into Nodejitsu and just Javascript. That’s what I’ve been learning and focusing on now.

How has being a hackNY Fellow helped you?

I now have 20 friends in New York I see all the time. It definitely puts you in the scene. There’s no way I could’ve met all those people if didn’t do that program. I’m able to email moot and ask his opinion on something, and it’s easy for me to arrange a meeting with Chris Dixon and stay connected.

The program gave me guidance on where I want to go, and showed me the process of having a startup and what it takes. It didn’t preach, just took us out there, showed us what startups are like and let us meet people.

It was a much more hands-on, personal experience than telling us “this is right and this is how much equity you should take.” It prepared me to work at startup or start my own.


2010 hackNY Fellow Andres Campanella Named TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner

Andres Campanella participated in the spring 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, one of hundreds of hackers who took part in the event. His hack, Doach, uses computer vision to help the user talk to your date by tracking body language, posture, volume of speech, heart rate and perspiration as well as suggesting topics of conversation based on your date’s Hunch and Twitter profiles. Andres was one of the winners selected by a panel of judges to present their hacks during the TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

Watch Andres’ final presentation at Disrupt here:

How did the idea progress? When I first started I wanted to try something using Open CV. I came up with an idea where I wanted to leverage the “Beanbag API” by setting up beanbags to mimic the first stage to the right of Yoshi’s house in Super Mario World. I had taken the entire level, laid it out and scaled in in terms of beanbag placement. I wanted to have the camera and use a tracking token for an actor to have him jump across beanbags as if he was Mario and track it in an emulator in a hack-y sort of way. (Class of 2011 hackNY Fellow) Abe Stanway and I were working on it and then someone told us something similar had been done before at last year’s hackathon.

So then I started wandering around like a lost soul for hours, looking over people’s shoulders to see what they were working on. This happened to me at the hackNY Spring Hackathon, too. I was outside looking at the night sky, and then I just kind of thought of the idea. It’s not really something that I need, but it’s definitely something that a lot of people need. I just did it because it’s kind of funny. I can’t explain what I was looking for, just something humanistic, which is what I usually do. It was too late to be second guessing at 10pm. Abe was excited about the idea, but by that time had already started working on his own project, so I stared working on it on my own. I drank a surprisingly small amount of coffee for my own stamina.

The end product would be a service that communicates with when you have a persistent connection, like a web cam connection. The service would be in the cloud and could call your phone so you’d have an ear piece connected with the device, guiding you. You would enter the Twitter handle or Hunch username of the person you’re trying to date and, assuming you’re malicious enough to place a camera in a neatly unobscured region in the bar, it could also perform augmented reality tracking. The input of the person’s twitter and hunch usernames would build a profile of likes and dislikes of the person you want to date and it would track your body language info of how close you are and how slanted your posture is, and could maybe track how loud you were and how few or many words you say per second. It would take all that info and make a strategy plan. That was the big vision but it ended up being huge joke, just tracking your distance and telling you “you’re too far away and looking like a big loser, so why don’t you get closer.” The end product only tracks proximity to your partner and your posture in a not-at-all-real way. It can also recommend topics of conversation every certain number of seconds.

An interview with Andres at Disrupt:

I still don’t know how I managed to build it – I coded my ass off. Abe did help too, and did the Hunch interaction for me.

There’s not a lot of long term vision for the product here. It’s just following primitive ideas based on the little bit I’ve read about body language, proximity, and finding the sweet spot between two people. If the point was creating long-lasting relationships maybe the approach would be different and would encourage you to be a little gentler in your approach.

I used Open CV to track clothing color on two people. Open CV has libraries that do color tracking for you with handful of exciting matrix operations. I had never worked with Open CV before but a bunch of people very helpful, especially the Aviary guys, who were very supportive and helped me find resources to operate it.

This is what the first version of the hack looked like:

After the hackathon, I got help from with my friends Tengchao Zhou and Joe Saavedra to polish it up more before the final presentation during the conference. Joe is good with electrical engineering and helped add a sweat sensor, breath rate sensor and heart sensor. We also added tracking for loudness of voice using a microphone. Tengchao helped to make it look better. We also added a “kill switch.” If your date is beyond recovery, it gives you a phone call pretending to be your mom with medical emergency so can excuse yourself.

How was presenting?
The first presentation was very scary. I’m not much of a performer in that way and have terrible stage fright. I was shaking before I went on stage. I curse a lot when I’m nervous and this was only my second time presenting at a hackathon. I guess it can be charming sometimes if everyone is well-spoken and you try to be vulgar – it can move people around sometimes.

I was very scared. I didn’t want to memorize anything since I was so nervous and feared that if I got off track I’d have to start from the beginning and would look like a dick. I improvised and opened by saying that I know you geeks spend too much time playing Counter-Strike and using Microsoft Paint, which is why you don’t know how to approach women. And they responded very well and laughed. I was afraid they would think it was an insult, but it takes a geek to know a geek. If I was insulting anyone, I was insulting myself.

What did you win?
I won a little Statue of Liberty thing, a TechCrunch sticker and an Android phone that moot awarded me. That’s my moot award, and I will treasure it forever and ever.

Will you continue to work on it?
i don’t really know if I’ll follow up. I’ve got myself tied up with some research at NYU right now so I’m dedicating myself to other projects right now.

What advice would you give to others participating in hackathons?
Never surrender. There will be a ton of discouragement and your hack won’t work or you’ll find out someone’s already done the hack you did, so you have to switch up. Just keep trying and you’ll have something at the end.

Congrats, Andres!

hackNY Fellow Cemre Gungor and Team Win First Place in StartupBus Competition

Note: Cemre Güngör is a member of the class 2011 hackNY Fellows. hackNY continues to accept applications for this year’s program from both students and startups on a rolling basis. All applicants will be notified in late April.

In the early morning of Tuesday, March 8th, Cemre Güngör climbed onto a bus in lower Manhattan with about 30 other startup enthusiasts. Their mission was to form teams and build companies in the three-day road trip to the SXSWi conference in Austin, Texas via StartupBus, an organized competition for buspreneurs departing from six different cities.

Although the New York City bus stopped at hotels in Atlanta and Baton Rouge, Cemre slept only five hours during the entire trip, determined to keep working on TripMedi, an aggregator of reliable information about medical tourism. His team’s dedication paid off when were selected as a joint winner of the national competition.

Cemre applied to participate in January and received notification of his acceptance the next month. The bus contained a mix of designers like Cemre, developers and business/community mangers. As the bus passed through New Jersey, passengers had 60 seconds each to say hello and pitch their skills. Another round of pitches introduced ideas, after which teams began to form. Cemre liked the TripMedi idea and joined what became the seven-person team.

Cemre perfects TripMedi's design at 60mph

“We did all we could do on the bus,” Cemre said. “Most of the work to launch is making contact with hospitals around the world, and gathering data, about their practice and success rates. We couldn’t possibly have done all that on the bus, but we did all we could to launch the project.” The team did find accurate data for one hospital in India online, enough to show as an example of what TripMedi would do.

Cemre got some footage of the buspreneurs hard at work:

The New York bus arrived in Austin the evening of March 10th and team TripMedi continued building out their product. The team learned they had qualified for semi-finals, and later for finals, continuing to work while non-qualifying teams partook in conference panels and parties.

The TripMedi team works from BD Riley's bar in Austin

Cemre said he was glad he participated.

“Had I not taken part in StartupBus, I would’ve been able to see the talks but would’ve had no friends,” he said. “Because of the bus, I have a network of 150 really cool, talented people, though I had to work the whole time.”

The TripMedi team worked up until the last minute, preparing to present their slide deck, which Cemre designed.

Cemre prepares for StartupBus finals

The judging panel asked difficult questions of the team, making it clear that disrupting the health industry would require a great deal of persistence and determination. Two of the judges, Dave McClure and Stephen Anderson, complimented Cemre’s pitch deck. TripMedi shared the first place title with WalkIn from the Silicon Valley bus.

After finals, Cemre found he needed 10-12 hours of sleep per night. “While it was happening, I didn’t feel it that much because I was so excited about the work I was doing,” he said, “but now I’m sleepy all the time.”

This was Cemre’s first hackathon, and he said time management was his biggest challenge. He’d spent the first couple of days planning and exploring, getting most of the real design work done the last day of the bus ride. “Designers are sometimes perfectionists and want to make sure they have the right idea, visual style and layout, but there’s not really a whole lot of time,” he said.

Three of the seven founders will continue building TripMedi full-time. Cemre decided not to, since he wants to finish his degree at NYU-Poly, though he will contribute as an advisor.

Congrats to Cemre and TripMedi! The startup he will be matched with for this year’s hackNY Summer Fellowship Program is sure to benefit from his impressive skills.

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!