Announcing the Class of 2015 hackNY Fellows!

Meet the Class of 2015: This Fellowship of 34 students comes from 24 universities, spread over 4 countries and 3 continents! Our Fellows are interning at 22 New York City startups this summer and learning everything they can about New York’s tech scene. They are an impressive, diverse group, with great tech skills and strong ideas about the future of our industry. Thanks to the generosity of a diverse community of supporters, the Fellows program includes community-style housing in Union Square as well as a series of pedagogical lectures introducing the hackNY Fellows to founders, investors, journalists, technologists, and all-around leaders from the NYC startup community. They are also sharing their unique skills with the group by hosting workshops – from Android development and configuration management systems to beatboxing, bread baking and notebook organization. We are so excited the Class of 2015 is joining our community!

Announcing Demo Night 2015: An evening of demos and celebration will take place Friday, July 31st. This event commemorates the end of the summer and is a chance for the Fellows to show off the summer projects they worked on, both professionally and personally. Demo Night is open to the tech community, and registration and more information will be coming soon.


Abhi Agarwal

New York University



Abril Vela

University of Michigan



Amrit Ayalur

University of California Berkeley



Brian Chuk

New York University



Charles Lai

Cornell University



Christopher Wan

Yale University



Cristopher Bello

CUNY Kingsborough



Dan Cadden

Temple University



Emily Pakulski

Columbia University



Emily Pries

Columbia University



Faiq Raza

Rutgers University



Harrison Liddiard

University of California LA



Janita Chalam

Amherst College



Jared Wright

Drexel University



Keeyon Ebrahimi

New York University



Kevin Yeh

University of Texas at Austin



Kimberly Leon

Mass. Institute of Technology



Matt McNaughton

Williams College



Merry Mou

Mass. Institute of Technology



Michelle Chandra

New York University



Nancy Wong

University of Pennsylvania



Niko Lazaris

University of Texas at Austin



Oluwatosin Afolabi

University of Nottingham



Rafael Palefsky-Smith

Stanford University



Ren Delos Reyes

Smith College



Richard Chu

Princeton University



Rohan Mathur

University of Illinois



Ross Goodwin

New York University



Shashank Bhargava

University of California Berkeley



Shehmeer Jiwani

Georgia Institute of Technology



Shloka Kini

Columbia University



Simon Ayzman

Hunter College



Valentin Perez

Brown University



Yoni Nachmany

University of Pennsylvania


Where Are They Now? Clem Huyghebaert Abuzz with Startup Goodness

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

Clément Huyghebaert worked with BuzzFeed during his fellowship and was hired on full-time even before his internship was over. Here, he tells us more about what kinds of projects he’s working on and startup life in general.

How did you get your gig?

There wasn’t really a transition from internship to job, but a slow and constant evolution.

When I got here I didn’t know a lot about web development. I did a bunch of PHP stuff before, but it was still pretty small scale. What was cool was that the first project I did here had a lot to do with what I’d been working on on college. They wanted me to work on our grabber, so that whenever one of articles on a partner network was getting a lot of traffic and going viral, it would be put on the front page of BuzzFeed. The grabber is in charge of grabbing an image from that page, along with a small description and title.

I had to use a lot of NLP techniques to determine which is the best description in the article itself. Try to find techniques to determine which is the best picture in the page. It’s hard. You can’t really look at the picture or know where it’s positioned on the page. I had to match it with the title of the article and a bunch of other techniques to come up with better answers.

That got me to know learn about the BuzzFeed environment, which is totally home-brewed and not built on top of any platform.

Over the course of the summer, I learned BuzzFeed was happy with the work I was doing, and probably two weeks before the end of the internship, told me they’d like to hire me. I was really happy with what I was doing, too. There was no real transition, and that’s what was cool about it. At the end of the summer I went back to Belgium for two weeks, and then I was ready to start. Only my status changed. And I got a new computer.

We were a lot smaller when I started last May. We were right below 20 people, and  now we’ve crossed the 30 people mark. The tech team is probably twice as big.

What are you up to these days?

Since Ky [ed. note: Ky Harlin is a Columbia applied math major, ’08]  joined the company as our data scientist, I’ve been focused on making sense of all the data that we have. He’s the brain behind it and I implement the ideas he comes up with. One of them was a the viral search we just launched a month ago.

Before, you could only search’s content, so what I included on top of that is all the articles that are in our partners’ network, including MTV, TMZ, Huffington Post, etc.

Where Ky comes in is we found a new way to rank results, based on time and relevancy. BuzzFeed tracks the number of viral views, and something we call Viral Lift.

The way it works is every partner on our network has tracking code on their site, and we get impressions information, categorize it either as viral view, or seed view. An example of seed view is if you’re on AOL news and you click a link to an article, you sort of got there on our own, so that’s a seed view. Viral view is when you click that link on Twitter, Facebook, in an email or via search. We make a distinction between the two views. For each article, we can tell the ratio between seed and viral views. That’s what we call the viral lift. Something people share a lot would have pretty big viral lift.

We use this type of data to tweak our ranking algorithm for our search engine for example.

The project I’ve been working on last month was the BuzzFeed’s hot topic list. It’s hard to do because everyone knows what’s hot right now by looking at the number of clicks. What we’re trying to do is to be predictive about it.  We want to come up with a list of ‘breaking’ topics that have the potential to become tomorrow’s top stories. We’re using a lot of the metrics, like looking at acceleration of the viral lift, using it to select articles among our partner networks. I run a clustering algorithm that groups articles together, and end up of with a list of articles for each trending topic. The ranking system is based on a magic number we compute along the way.

We’re currently working on a beta version of the new front page and this list will be in the middle of it. Before the list gets published though, we let the editors tweak and polish the results. Hopefully in the future, one of the projects I’ll be working on is trying to learn from the editorial changes themselves by keeping track of which topics get re-ranked and trying to understand why. Maybe I’ll apply some machine learning to it. It’s really cool.

What did you think of the hackNY Summer Fellowship Program?

From a startup point of view, if I had an interview with BuzzFeed for a job, I don’t think they would’ve hired me because I didn’t know Perl and had no web dev experience. hackNY game them and me an opportunity to meet and learn slowly, and then become a pretty good candidate for hire. It didn’t cost them a lot, and it was super enriching for me. It’s a really win/win situation to begin with for both parties.

As a hackNY Fellow, it was awesome to be in the city during the summer, because I usually just go home. It was a smooth introduction to the startup world, with a lot of explanation of how it works. A lot of people say that with startups you don’t know if the next day you’ll have work. The program answered a lot of these concerns with real answers from people in the startup world.

The range of all of the lectures we had was well thought out, and included speakers from the business side, the tech side, the social side with and the VC side. It gave us a brief introduction to all those sides, but a very complete one.

It definitely helps to know how the VC world works, or have someone talk about it. It’s not something that a university is going to teach you. It’s something that should be taught earlier rather than just fighting with it the first time you need funding. Now I feel like I’m more prepared if one day I want to start my own thing. At least I know what to ask and who to ask.

What do you do when you’re not at BuzzFeed?

I worked on a website for Columbia last semester, a sort of Craigslist for Columbia. It let students sell their furniture, textbooks, etc and works well at the beginning and end of the semester.

I do a lot of sports. I used to be a rower, but that’s hard to do downtown, so I play basketball which is super hard. Sports with balls are like a different world for me. I’m trying to stay in shape, it’s important. It’s a different rhythm than college life, too.

The schedule is pretty sweet here, 10 to 6 every day. I work more when I have to, but on normal or late days, I can wake up in the morning, go to the gym before work, and have the whole evening to myself.

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.