No more job fairs, hackathons are the way to go!

Written by Kayla Pandza 🖊, Organizer for Hack Western 5

Hack Western 5 will be taking place on November 23rd-25th 2018. Applications are now open so head on over to www.hackwestern.com and apply before October 12th 2018! Feel free to reach us at hello@hackwestern.com if you have any questions!

The idea of finding a job can be overwhelming. For most undergraduate students, it’s difficult to find a place to start. Applying through online job portals can feel purposeless, and networking at information sessions can feel impersonal. Fortunately, in recent years, many technology firms have adopted new and more interactive forms of recruiting. We had the opportunity to speak to Amy Li and Jason Brown — two students who landed amazing jobs from attending Hack Western.

Jason Brown just finished a five year dual-degree with Mechatronic Systems Engineering and business at Ivey. He joined the Scotiabank Digital Factory in September as an Associate Product Owner (APO). The APO program is a rotational program that allows people to explore their interest in product ownership across a variety of financial technology products.
Amy Li is currently a HBA student at Ivey Business School and worked as a Business Technology Analyst at Deloitte this past summer.

What led you to attend Hack Western?

Amy: I found out about Hack Western because I had a few friends who either went to attend Hack Western before, and really enjoyed the experience. In addition, I also had friends who were running the hackathon, and they said that it was going to be a very fun event.

Jason: In my five years of university, I never attended a hackathon until my final year. A few of my friends were organizers for Hack Western, and they were encouraging me to apply. I had an idea that I had been toying with; I had presented it at different business pitches, but never actually built anything. I told myself that if I’m ever going to build it, it’s probably going to be at a hackathon — and that’s why I attended Hack Western.

What was your experience like at Hack Western overall?

Amy: Since it was my first hackathon, I wanted to put a lot of effort into it and do well, which made the team finding experience a little bit stressful because I didn’t know what to expect.

What we built was an IoT (Internet of Things)system. We built it because during opening ceremonies, we saw a lot of presentations from the sponsors and the one that really stood out to us was Bell’s presentation about IoT. They had a room filled with really cool people (mentors) who wanted to help either teach you things, or discuss ideas with you so we took full advantage of that. We talked to some people, we thought about what would interest us, and we balanced out the skills that we had on the team which was a good mix of hardware and software skills so obviously IoT made sense to us.

Jason: One thing that struck me was how much mentorship and support there was. I was in a team of two people, and neither of us had any blockchain experience. Scotiabank, luckily enough, had a whole team of blockchain developers that were hanging out at the hackathon. I spent a lot of time with them, they mentored me and helped me bring my idea to life. Before the Hackathon, I thought I’d be doing a lot of looking things up online and trying to figure out how to do stuff from scratch. Instead, Scotiabank led a workshop at the start of the program and were there throughout the whole event which really helped.

It was really cool to see how committed everyone was, both the sponsors and the participants. I really didn’t expect everyone to be up for 48 hours. Overall, it was cool to see so many people from different schools that go to these things basically every week. There were so many really cool projects, and I was really impressed with the quality of hacks that were created in one weekend.

Did you know that companies hired at Hack Western going in?

Amy: I knew that a lot of companies recruited at hackathons because a lot of companies are currently looking for development, and people who are specializing either in software development or in other technical areas. I knew that this was a possibility.

Jason: One of my good friends was hired by another sponsor at the previous Hack Western and had a really good experience. He was one of the people who encouraged me to come. I had it on my mind, but it wasn’t the reason I went.


What was your Hack Western recruitment experience like?

Amy: At a hackathon, it’s very different. Every company has a booth, and you try your best to network with them. That is what I did with Deloitte. I was interested in the company because I had friends who had worked there in previous years, and they were talking about how they were working on tech projects and it seemed really interesting to me. I wanted to get a better sense of all the projects that they were working on, and see if there was something that really interested me. They were talking about some cool new technologies that they were using, and how they were helping clients apply cutting-edge technology. I was really interested by it. I believe it is really important, but also the application of specific project. It ended up being one the best conversations I had at Hack Western.

I had an interview at Hack Western which eventually led me to landing a placement at Deloitte for the summer of 2018.

Jason: My experience was completely different because I didn’t speak to a single Scotiabank recruiter during the hackathon. I did speak to other people who were from Scotiabank, mostly developers. In that sense, I got a really good idea of how the company works and the people who work at the company even before I thought about the job opportunity. Usually it’s the other way around: you start off by knowing that there’s a job opportunity, and you go in and try to figure out if it’s a place you’d like to work. I first met some very interesting Scotiabank employees, and only later did I reached out to the recruiters to get an idea of what kind of program/position they had for someone like me.

Do you think attending a Hack Western and the recruitment process made it easier for you as a job applicant to find a job?

Amy: A good point is that traditional hiring methods are not perfect and companies are starting to realize this. This is is why nowadays, companies are more interested in attending events or conferences where people are being challenged, and see how people function in a pseudo-working environment. A hackathon is a really good place to scope out developers, and people who are interested in the technology sector as it pushes individuals to think critically and creatively. As a result, if you are interested in the tech space, you should definitely attend Hack Western as it is just another portal to get access to companies that you might be interested in.

Jason: I think the biggest benefit of this path is that I got a chance for the recruiters to notice me. Usually, when you’re applying for a job through your school’s job application system, you have very little prior connection with the company. Often, you go to an information session where everyone asks the same questions and everyone wants the same job. At Hack Western, I got a chance to showcase my skills in a completely different environment. They got to see who I really was, through casual interactions instead of me constantly trying to impress them.

Key Take-Aways

  1. Looking for a way to learn about opportunities in tech? Hackathons are a great opportunity for you to interact with potential employers and showcase your skills!
  2. If you’re looking for full-time job or internship, Hack Western is a great place to learn, to experience, and to network. Applications are open, so be sure to keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for our latest news!