Minerva University
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Minerva University

Hackathon Victory — BRASA Hacks

A Conversation with Gabriel Bio Guerra

Congratulations to first-year students Gabriel Bio Guerra, Nicole Dantas, Felipe Bandeira, and Luis Fernando Cerqueira who won first place in the BRASA Hackathon. Using blockchain to build authentication systems, the team created a network to optimize the efforts of IT agencies. Gabriel took the time to answer a few questions about the competition and future career prospects.

Team members: Nicole Dantas, Felipe Bandeira, Luis Fernando Cerqueira, and Pedro Guerra

What is BRASA and how did you get involved in the BRASA Hackathon?

BRASA is an organization that provides mentorship and scholarship to over 9,000 Brazilian students to study abroad. I have been involved with them in a couple of ways. First, I received a scholarship from BRASA to study at Minerva University. Then, I learned about BRASA Hack, one of the biggest Brazilian international hackathons for students who study abroad.

Why were you interested in participating?

I became interested in participating for three reasons: (1) I think it is important to participate in hackathons to gain knowledge and demonstrate that you are up-to-date with the technology trends in the world. (2) Hackathons can strengthen connections. When I was building the team, I did not invite people that had the best skills, but instead, chose people that were my friends. By doing it this way, I can make better connections with my friends and understand how they work. It was really good to see how my friends dealt with tasks for 40 straight hours. (3) Hackathons can help you stand out for internships and jobs.

What was your challenge for the hackathon?

The challenge we tackled was based on the needs of Willowtree and Poatek, global IT agencies that work with leading brands like FOX and the NFL. They needed an authentication system for each application that would be efficient. We wanted to solve this problem by using blockchain technology as a universal ID provider for user authentication. We created a network for the IT agencies, in which every new client that entered would be a block with an easy implementation on the platform, eliminating the efforts of Willowtree and Poatek. In addition, our end users, who are the clients of IT agencies, had control over the data that was shared with the companies, did not use passwords to log in (could use facial and digital recognition), and also have a direct connection to virtual wallets of people in countries at war, such as Ukraine, to make donations easily and instantly. To better understand our solution, can you view it here.

How did you and your team prepare for the hackathon?

We received our challenge two days before the hackathon started and the companies expressed that the solution they sought should involve blockchain technology. Therefore, we read a lot of articles about blockchain and authentication systems. When the hackathon started, we got in contact with our mentor. We asked our mentor what exactly the company was looking for. In a hackathon, sometimes you know a lot about the technology, but you don’t know how to build for the person who is inquiring or how to present this to someone who will judge your work. We asked the mentor for insight on the goal of the company, and based on that information, we built our app.

Did you utilize skills learned during your time at Minerva?

In the first year of Minerva, students learn habits of mind and foundational concepts (HCs) that support critical and creative thinking and effective communication and interaction. For the hackathon, we used the HCs #audience and #communicationdesign a lot. First, we had to understand the challenge very well and what the IT agencies need to be satisfied. As Einstein says, 99% time thinking about the problem, 1% developing the solution. We followed this idea, spending time developing project structures that would serve the end-users and eliminate hours of work from Willowtree and Poatek. On the last day, Pedro, Luis, and I (the programmers of the team) spent about 30 hours developing the code. Finally, #communicationdesign was very important for us to pitch and present our idea well in the competition through video.

Who were you competing against? How many teams? What was the outcome of the hackathon?

The entire Hackathon had about 30 teams. However, in the track we were competing in, there were seven teams. Teams came from across Europe and the United States. Our team of freshmen students won first place, defeating a team of Georgia Tech seniors. BRASA brought my team to Berkeley for the final ceremony once it was announced that we were to be one of the two finalists in our track.

What’s next for you? How will you use this experience in the future?

I am already using this experience in my internship this summer at Willowtree and Poatek, the companies that created this hackathon. I chose this internship because during my research I found that they offer great learning opportunities and they provide interns with relevant mentorship to foster career growth. I used the hackathon as an opportunity to showcase my skills. When I arrived at the internship, they knew me, which came with a level of respect. It is a very complex and selective internship that is usually reserved for juniors and seniors. However, they made an exception for me. The internship recruitment process required 4 interviews, including a technical interview. They go to this level of detail because they believe that if you are a qualified intern, you can be a full-time employee. I will return as an intern in 2023 and when I graduate from Minerva in 2025, I am guaranteed to receive a full-time offer to join the organization. I am currently working on a project for data security at Willowtree which builds on what I developed at the hackathon.

If you were inspired by Gabriel’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, start your Minerva application today.

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