“It (Hack Upstate) is like a tech startup on crack.”
You may have seen Zoe Koulouris around The Tech Garden, where her startup, 3Pound Health is based. Though she has filled numerous roles in the company, her current focus is research and sales. I took some time to ask Zoe about how she ended up not only participating in the latest Hack Upstate event, but then hosted the recent Coding & Tech Lightning Talks at Syracuse CoWorks.
How did you learn to code?
My formal education is from Syracuse University Whitman School of Management. I double majored in Entrepreneurship and Finance and minored in psychology.
I have always had an interest in reading and learning about new technology, which is why it’s no surprise most of my professional experience is from working on the customer facing side of tech companies. My main source of exposure to coding is from experience starting a software company because I’ve witnessed what it takes to put a team together, build a product, and continuously prioritize feature enhancements with the development team based on customer feedback.
The main reason I became interested in coding was to be able to communicate better with every stakeholder involved in the process of building software. It just makes things a lot more efficient when you can understand and communicate the right things to the right people. One of the most important things for me in a company is team communication. Simple things can go a long way, like knowing why you build in a certain language and how long things should take to get fixed or built. The development team and the sales team need to be on the same page with the product that is being built as well. There are numerous examples, but as someone who communicates regularly with customers and brings feedback to the team, it would be helpful when talking to the development team to speak their language and be able to translate into layman terms when talking to customers. Too often, there is a disconnect between the business end and the software end. In my opinion, it should not be that way.
What are your preferred languages?
I am interested in exploring other languages too, if the resources are available. For example, Alison McCauley is teaching free python classes in Syracuse through her group “Code Like a Girl”. I would like to try Python the next time she starts the lesson sequence. Girl Develop IT Rochester also offers different types of classes at least once a month. I’ve been pretty interested in doing a UX/UI class next time that is offered.
Unfortunately we are limited in resources in Syracuse, but people are really trying to build more of a community and create more opportunities here. I’ve witnessed a few people really trying to make a difference in our community and it has personally impacted my life, which is why I wanted to showcase what is available at the Coding and Tech Lightning Talk event that I hosted recently, and also create a dialogue around what’s missing. It is really cool to see people (like those involved in Hack Upstate) trying to unify the development community, because there ends up being a bunch of little silos or the same people at every event. The developer community can also be intimidating to break into. We need to branch out and get more people interested at all age levels.
How did you first become aware of Hack Upstate?
I’ve known about hack upstate since it started a couple years ago, mainly from working in and being around The Tech Garden. I didn’t really know much about it or think it could apply to me at all. Honestly, I didn’t even understand what a “hack” was until recently. Now that I am more directly involved in the development community, I can appreciate how valuable these types of events are because they get people together to solve problems collaboratively, in a short amount of time. The structure is a lot of fun because you can gain some great skills without taking things too seriously.
Another cool thing about it from my perspective working with startups is that in many ways it simulates building a software startup within 24 hours. You pitch an idea, resource a team, execute on an idea (which may end up changing), and then do a live demo. It is like a tech startup on crack.
Have you taken home any awards or prizes?
No. I just went to my first Hack Upstate this past October. My team worked on a really cool project to help libraries, but it was too ambitious to finish within the Hack Upstate time frame. My team enjoyed the project so much that we seriously considered continuing to work on it after the event, which I consider a success! You never know what ideas end up spinning out of events like this.
I’m glad that I actually went and participated in the event this year. I will be really proud of myself when I reach my goal of actually contributing meaningful code to a project.
What is your favorite Hack Upstate moment?
I really enjoy watching the presentations and demos at the end. It is amazing to see what some people can build within a short amount of time.
Everyone that presented this fall had some really neat ideas, and I enjoyed all the presentations but a few do stick out in my mind.
- The 2 truths and a lie game. I love that game! And it was impressive that they had it working.
- Get photo find
- There were a couple that messed with the twitter API that were impressive. I think everyone was amused by the kittens vs. puppies game, especially because they built up some great anticipation leading up to the demo through social media.
- Of course we all loved the Halloween geo-tracking app, which is why it won.
What do you think makes a good hackathon project?
I think what makes a great project coincides with the reasons that a few projects distinctly stick out in my mind. They were fun, engaging, impressive, and were finished enough for a live working prototype/demo by the end of the competition. You want to make it a fun project, where you can learn from other people and bounce ideas around with other skilled developers, but you need to be able to execute it within the time frame.
Beginners: If you don’t have advanced programming skills (like me) — still go and experience it! Join a team that you can help with idea, wire frames, etc and just soak up the process so that when you go to the next one you will know what to expect and what type of projects can be accomplished. Or if you really don’t feel ready to join a team, at least go to the pitches in the beginning and/or the demos at the end. I think it helps a lot just having an understanding of what the structure is and how a collaborative development event works.
What are your tips for demo-ing your build?
Hand out candy ;)
How can people connect with you?
Github My repositories on Github are mainly for homework assignments and practice for my NYCDA class. I want to build a portfolio so I’m working on a final class project and some side projects that I will add soon.
Has Hack Upstate benefited you in any way?
Yes! I met some really great people. I had a lot of fun working on the project with my team. The most beneficial thing for me this year was observing how a hackathon works so that I’ll feel more comfortable participating at the next one. It was great to see how welcoming everyone was to beginners. It is definitely a safe place for anyone interested in coding, and a great way to join the development community.
The goal of Hack Upstate is to connect Upstate NY developers. Do you think they are executing well on that goal? What would you improve?
I think they are executing well on that goal, especially now that there is a Slack group. People seem to stay in touch and communicate different ideas and events that are going on across upstate. If there is anything to improve, I say continue to come up with ways to keep people engaged in between the two semi-annual events.
Any other thoughts, suggestions, things you want noted or questions you want to answer that I didn’t ask?
If you told me I would be profiled in a blog post for Hack Upstate a year ago, I would’ve thought you were crazy! Thank you so much for the opportunity share my story. I’m looking forward to the next Hack Upstate event.
If you are also looking forward to the next Hack Upstate event, sign up here.