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We Asked 3 Tech Interns To Share What’s Great About Their IBM Hackathon Experience

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(8 min read)

This summer more than 600 technical interns across the US and Canada participated in the North America Intern Hack. During this internal hackathon, teams of interns worked together to develop new solutions inspired by IBM technology. The participating teams engaged with mentors to create their designs and architect their solutions, consulted with Subject Matter Experts to address challenges, and presented their solutions to a panel of judges. Hackathon categories included: BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology), Blockchain Solutions, AI, and Cybersecurity. The finalists traveled to Orlando, Florida to present to hundreds of their peers at “Future Blue Connect”, IBM’s signature intern event at Walt Disney World. We interviewed three of the finalists about their experience competing in the hackathon.

Please tell us about yourself.

Kaitlyn Bridge

I am a Front-End Software Developer Intern at the Poughkeepsie, New York campus. I spent my summer at IBM working on the Automation team within Systems Z. I just finished my first year at Pennsylvania State University as an Information Sciences and Technology major and a Communications minor, in hopes that through studying these areas, I can continue to develop both my technical and interpersonal skills.


Tyler Rimaldi

I currently attend Marist College where I am majoring in computer science and minoring in mathematics. This summer continuing into the fall, I earned the opportunity to intern at IBM Poughkeepsie as a Software Developer within IzODA — specifically the zSpark team. My focus is on automation and continuous integration. My goal is to ease the development process for others on the team.


Megan Calvin

I am a Software Design Intern on Watson Assistant, working out of the Austin, TX campus, and I study marketing and design at Tulane University. Most of my design work has focused on improving the onboarding experience to the product, to help our users build assistants quickly and efficiently. I have loved my team and have enjoyed learning about conversational AI and the unique design challenges that come with this space.


What did you and your team create at the hackathon?

Kaitlyn: My team’s mobile application, Roads Less Traveled, combats a two-pronged problem to create a safer driving environment for commercial trucks and everyday drivers alike. Poor road conditions can not only cause devastating accidents but where commercial vehicles are involved, they can cause the destruction of millions of dollars’ worth of products and services. Using machine learning, our application warns users of potentially dangerous routes before they begin driving and provides them with safer alternatives. This, in turn, ensures that companies are taking out the highest insurance possible on their products. Our application also has a broad everyday market. Current direction applications like Google Maps will give users the quickest route, not taking into consideration the skill or comfort level of the driver, which can lead to a case of inexperience leading to accidents. Roads Less Traveled takes into account the inexperience of certain drivers and allows them to customize a route that avoids certain parameters, like highways, merges, and sharp turns. Combined, our app strives to foster a driving environment that is safe for all.

Tyler: We developed a high interaction honeypot. Our honeypot, DockerPot, is a containerized environment that isolates attackers from production machines while logging their attack attempts. This platform creates a real-time data pipeline that sends attack data directly to our database, which is then visualized on our dashboard.

Megan: I was on the Green Team, based in Austin, and we came together over the shared desire to create a “tech for good” hack. We explored issues around sustainability and the environment and settled on tackling food waste. We created a blockchain-powered food recovery system that connects businesses with excess food to people who need it most. In our research, we found IBM had been working on a solution to food waste with Food Trust, which uses blockchain to track the food supply chain from source to the store. In reality, the bulk of food waste comes from restaurants and grocery stores when food goes uneaten. We thought we could build off of Food Trust with our idea and make it a complete food waste solution by incorporating our food recovery product.


Was this your first hackathon experience? What was your favorite part of the event?

Kaitlyn: This was my first hackathon experience, but I can confidently say that it won’t be my last! Previously, I was intimidated by hackathons, having never done one I didn’t want to be the odd person out who didn’t know what she was doing. However, the environment I found at the IBM Hackathon was nothing like I anticipated. Regardless of who was one who’s team, everyone was so supportive of each other and I loved the collaborative environment that was fostered. My favorite part of the experience was getting to work with and learn from my peers. Everyone on my team came from such diverse coding backgrounds, which allowed us all to take a multi-faceted approach when it came to solving the problems our project targeted.

Tyler: This was not my first hackathon, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had during a hackathon! My favorite moment during the hackathon was when we pieced together all of the small issues we set and solved on ZenHub. At this point, we were able to see the amount of quality work we completed in such a short amount of time!

Megan: This was my second hackathon experience, but my first experience working with Offering Managers (OMs) and devs. My first hackathon was only for UX designers. I loved working with OMs and developers because we were able to make our idea a reality. It was exciting to take the product from concept, to design, to development and to actually be able to input data and interact with the product in real-time. I loved presenting my solution with my team at Future Blue Connect, to 700+ IBMers. That was by far the largest presentation I’ve ever given, and it was a great culmination of our hard work to be able to share our product with our fellow interns.

What new skills did you learn from this experience?

Kaitlyn: Because of the limited time that Hackathons allow to work on a project, my team was in a perpetual “all hands on deck” state. Originally, we broke up the work to play to each individual’s strengths, however, it quickly became evident that such an approach wasn’t entirely feasible because certain facets of the project were simply more time consuming than others. As a result, I had the opportunity to program in languages that I previously had little to no experience in, such as C++ and JavaScript. Additionally, the Hackathon served as a good lesson in prioritizing. Due to time constraints, we had to pick and choose what aspects of our project were most important to develop first and what others were better left on the backburner. It was difficult making these decisions because, in the long run, my team would like to enhance and finish the application. However, for the sake of the event and judging, we had to make some tough decisions regarding the relative importance of certain features over others.

Tyler: Through the experiences of my internship and through my participation in the hackathon, I taught myself a more efficient way of learning. Essentially, I learned how to learn. This skill is used every day, as new technologies and ideas are constantly being touched and developed. My internship and the hackathon served as great teaching activities, as they both encouraged you to explore completely new and different technologies that aren’t often taught in academic settings.

Megan: It was challenging being the only designer on a team with 3 OMs and 3 devs because I didn’t have any support from a design team, but communicating what I needed and working with the developers to establish a timeline helped us all complete our work on time.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Kaitlyn: The IBM Hackathon was an extremely enriching experience. I loved collaborating with other interns, and not only showcasing our technical skills but putting our creativity to the test. The hackathon was a programmer’s dream because we had pretty much complete liberty to design and execute our code in any fashion we saw fit.

TylerIt was a great experience and my team would love to participate in one again! It is a great way to showcase your creativity and learning ability. Also, it allows interns to see projects developed by other interns outside of your worksite and their logic behind their solutions.

Megan: One of the best parts of the hackathon was seeing how open IBMers were to helping us learn and strengthen our project. We managed to get a meeting with the GM of Blockchain, who was more than willing to hear our idea and provide other contacts for us. We also met with the Offering Director of Food Trust to learn more about the product and pitch our idea. We were met with such warmth and enthusiasm, and the director went on to set up a meeting with Food Trust and Blockchain leadership so we could get as much critique and preparation as possible. I couldn’t believe how willing all of these senior staffers were to meet with a group of interns for a hackathon project, and it was extremely encouraging to see them become invested in our project.


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