hackNY 2017

It’s currently 2:00 AM, August 12th, 2017 - just a full week since hackNY officially ended. In the morning, the rest of the fellows would be leaving - back to each of our walks of life. Everything is returned to as it was and yet, it was completely different. I can’t help but think back to the past 11 weeks; it had felt like a lifetime yet it was over in the blink of an eye. I still remembered all the months leading up to the summer - that’s part of the experience too.

I had been scrolling through Facebook when something caught my eye - one of my friends had posted a link about hackNY. The name piqued my interest and I decided to click on the link and give it a look. A watershed moment, one that I didn’t realize at the time. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it. So, I applied. And waited.

As much as it would have been nice to get this program, I also knew that there was a good chance I wouldn’t. After all, I had gotten rejected to a bunch of other internships and barely managed to secure an interview for Uber. Around this time, I got the email for interview. I remember that I was kind of dozing off in computer architecture class when I got the email. I reached over to my phone a bit drowsily but when I saw the subject of the email, I woke up pretty damn quickly. Bracing myself for the worst I opened the email and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had actually gotten past the first round - what a surprise. After the interview I could not help but be anxious, I could not focus properly on anything. Once again, the email came. Again with good news.

At this point, I was waiting on my interview with Uber and I had hackNY. It was a bit of a dilemma - there was the allure of going to San Francisco for the summer. There is just something about going to California, having grown up in NYC. Ultimately I got rejected from Uber. I was super bummed out, the one company that I had managed to get to an interview, I was rejected from. Looking back, maybe it was just not meant to be.

With my acceptance, all I could look forward to was the summer. School finally ended - hackNY started and it took off running. I remember moving in and immediately jumping into games and getting to know people. I didn’t even have time to unpack until much later that night after buying supplies and dinner with the fellows. Sitting there at San Marzano, in that dim lighting it all felt surreal. Had I really been accepted to spend a summer with these people? Did I deserve it? Although I asked myself all these questions, it didn’t matter because it remained a fact that I was there, as part of the fellowship and the summer of a lifetime began.

One of the main aspects of hackNY is the pairing with a startup to work at during the summer - mine turned out to be JW Player. I had seen their front end players time and again but I’d never thought that it was a company. Now, I knew better and learned that they are a video company doing everything from the player to the analytics and ads. I was on the platform API team working on a microservice. I won’t go into much detail in this post because what I wanted to explore here is not my work but the summer as a whole.

One of the best aspects of hackNY without a doubt are the tech talks we go to twice a week. We got to listen to people talk about things that we’ve never thought about and to discuss what technology might be capable of. One of my favorite talks was by Cathy O’Neil who wrote “Weapons of Math Destruction”. Her talk revolved around the unseen consequences of our algorithms and how we need to be more aware of the consequences that come with any invention no matter how great it might seem. Another great talk was the last one by Stephanie Yang, a data scientist at Foursquare. She went over Foursquare’s approach to rating and suggestions, which was fascinating to hear.

The talks were great but if you asked me what was actually the best part of the summer, the answer would have to be community. This fellowship wasn’t just a random conglomerate from all walks of life with only CS as our commonality - it was so much more than that. We got to know each other pretty well and got so close that it was hard to say bye.

I remember towards the middle of summer, on a Sunday night we just randomly decided to go for a walk. We ended up getting fries at Pomme Frites and trying to learn how to ride a unicycle. It wasn’t anything special, sure but it just always remained in my mind. It was a night of just enjoying life. We also had another night where we went out to Union Square with a speaker and just danced. To an outsider looking on, we might have seemed insane but we sure as hell had fun so who cares? The summer was just full of moments like these and so much more. We had regular brunches on the weekends, going out on weekends, random parties and happy hours at our companies - there was never a moment to rest.

I will not lie that I am completely burnt out, but that’s okay. I’d planned it to be like this - after all this is one summer, what’s a little burnout so I can enjoy it to its fullest. Now thinking back to the application period, I’m so glad that I didn’t get Uber or anything else because as great as that would have been, I’m not sure it would have matched what hackNY provided me with this summer. I remember people describing hackNY as the best summers of their lives - I was very cynical about it. How often is it that a program you do actually lives up to other people’s descriptions? Well this is one of those rare cases. This summer was the best summer of my life. Thank you hackNY and the class of 2017, it’s been amazing.