My summer at hackNY

Yoni Nachmany
Aug 3, 2015 · 5 min read

The hackNY Fellows program pairs quantitative and computational students with startups which can demonstrate a strong mentoring environment: a problem for a student to work on, a person to mentor them, and a place for them to work. Students enjoy free housing together over the course of 10 weeks and a pedagogical lecture series to introduce them to the ins and outs of joining and founding a startup. —

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Evan and Chris

10 weeks ago, when Chris Wiggins and Evan Korth bestowed the oral tradition of hackNY to 34 eager fellows, including me, I latched on to two comments as I scribbled the random walks of my mind in a Muji notebook.

Chris and Evan established hackNY in 2010 to get quantitative college students to more actively question potential career ambitions and paths, expanding beyond the status quo of Wall Street to consider New York’s emerging startup scene.

I have never believed that I would be completely satisfied doing computer science or programming singularly. My journey into CS emerged from an interest in logic and problem solving that has always been inside of me, but has not defined me primarily. I grew up in New York, exposed to the litany of cultural offerings of the city and its people. My curiosity about the world around me nurtured an interest in journalism, and subsequently in understanding major societal challenges and the role of various institutions like government, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations.

Currently, Hack4Impact, a student organization dedicated to building web and mobile software for nonprofits founded last year at UPenn, is my hub for thinking critically about what I want to do with tech.

In addition, Chris and Evan envisioned “a tight network of tech scholars” like Silicon Valley’s pioneering “Treacherous Eight,” building off of each other’s skills and interests to innovate and transform tech.

Over the past year as a Networked & Social Systems Engineering (NETS) major, I have undergone Pavlovian conditioning so that the mention of “networks” and their characteristics leads to a cascade of connections.

Let me walk you through some of the nodes and edges of my summer.

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Gary Chou, Orbital, former GM of Union Square Ventures Network

In a world of networks, it’s never been easier for individuals to explore new ideas and to create new narratives for themselves.

But getting started is never easy, even for the most experienced creators.

Negotiating the ambition of our vision with the reality of our constraints is critical to successfully launching our ideas into the world.

And like most lessons, the best way to learn is by doing. —

Someone who lives with the implicit lessons of networks — at any moment, we know only about our local surroundings, not the path to arrive at our destination, or even what the right destination might be. In the meanwhile, appreciate both what you know about yourself and saying “I don’t know.”

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Cool story about origin of this famous image:

Chris Wiggins, Columbia Professor & Chief Data Scientist, New York Times

data science: past/present/future 1962–2062 (links)

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Drew Conway’s famous Venn Diagram

Cool to learn about Chris’s connection to Duncan Watts, known for his work on the “small worlds problem,” through Jake Hoffman. Definitely want to check out the “Modeling Social Data” class that Jake and Chris co-taught.

Jonah Peretti — CEO Buzzfeed

Awesome talk from an intelligent, down-to-earth, self-taught founder. Also love his background:

Before BuzzFeed, Peretti experimented with viral projects and studied how information and ideas spread through the web. Peretti is a graduate of the MIT Media Lab and has taught at NYU and the Parsons School of Design. —

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Shreyans Bhansali — Co-Founder Socratic

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Again reminded of Duncan Watts, particularly the title of his book “Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness.”

Randomly reconnect with acquaintances. Participate in unexpected activities. Take dramatic learning opportunities.

Brad Burnham, Albert Wenger, and John Buttrick, Partners at Union Square Ventures

Incredible to see people so invested in thinking about networks, their subtleties, and trends that could undo network effects, like blockchains.

Stephanie Hannon, CTO, Hillary for America

Amen Ra Mashariki, Mayor’s Office of Analytics

From dramatically increasing the vacate rates of illegal apartment conversions to connecting disparate agency data by location for new insights, Amen Ra and MODA are thinking about how to have a “light footprint for maximum impact.” MODA is an incredible product of New York, and I am inspired by the city’s unique and growing institutions, from NYU’s GovLab and Center for Urban Science and Progress to the Columbia Data Science Institute and Cornell-Tech.

Also excited by 18F and the Data Science for Social Good fellowship.

hackNY demo night

I am so glad to have been matched with Clarifai, which is at the interface of developing cutting-edge technology and providing meaningful experiences for people to make the most of their photos and videos. Try it out here!

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“city, architecture, skyline, travel, building, cityscape, sky, street, nobody, and urban” via Clarifai

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