Harmandeep Sidhu was facing a problem not uncommon to young job applicants. He was applying to numerous co-ops and internships at once, and his best option for keeping track of them was a spreadsheet. It was an unwieldy and inefficient solution.
He knew there had to be a better way, and when Sidhu realized there wasn’t, he saw an opportunity to create one himself. In less than two days, he had a prototype for an application to help students maintain their job applications.
“The name of the app is Job Tracker,” said Sidhu, a student at Northeastern’s Silicon Valley campus who is studying for his master’s degree in computer science. “What we were trying to do is keep it simple and as automated as possible.”
The app features a dashboard with a built-in calendar that allows users to input information such as their personal data, a list of the companies to which they’ve applied, including locations, and deadlines. Users are notified via text and email about upcoming events and dates related to each job.
“As soon as you fill the due date it will automatically create a task on your calendar that reminds you whenever you have the interview,” said Sidhu.
Sidhu was one of 22 students who participated in a weeklong virtual hackathon recently hosted by Northeastern in partnership with ServiceNow, an enterprise software company based in the Bay Area, and Accenture, the global consulting giant.
A traditional hackathon brings together people with technical backgrounds who form teams and collaborate to code a unique solution to a problem from scratch.
This hackathon was a little different. Prior to the actual “hacking,” the students were provided three full days of intensive skill-building led by industry professionals from ServiceNow and Accenture who are experienced in the field of digital transformation.
Because of physical distancing guidelines, every aspect of the hackathon, from identifying a problem and solving it, to the final judging of the projects, took place online—an endeavor that, while unique, wasn’t without logistical challenges, said Sidhu.
If something goes wrong in a virtual hackathon, said Sidhu, one doesn’t have the luxury of just walking up to a teammate and demonstrating the problem; he and his teammates had to find a way to do it by switching screens, he said, which required some patience.
“The online thing is not better than the on-the-ground thing—that’s for sure—but it was very well organized,” said Sidhu. “I actually expected it to be less fun, but it was more fun.”
ServiceNow’s Tom Sidebottom, a principal training and certification architect who mentored the students throughout the weeklong event, said that it was important for the students to enjoy the learning process.
“If you had fun, you accomplished the goal of the hackathon,” he told the students on the final day.
While each member of the winning team received an Amazon Echo Dot as a prize, no participant left empty-handed. Sidhu and his teammates didn’t win a smart speaker, but they will have a chance to take an exam that will allow them to receive an industry-recognized credential.
Andrei Coso, a director of strategic partnerships at Northeastern’s Bay Area campuses, noted that one outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has significantly accelerated the future of work toward digital transformation and a remote workforce.
“This program is a great example of companies proactively taking action to build career opportunities for our students in an uncertain job market impacted by COVID,” he said. “Both ServiceNow and Accenture committed their time, expertise, and resources to engage and mentor students virtually with the goal of expanding the talent pool for these skills so their technology ecosystem can continue to grow. Students, in turn, can take this valuable experience solving real world problems and building applications to stand out in the interview process as they look for new job opportunities.”
Sidhu said he’d like to someday have a chance to finish developing the job-tracker application. There’s potential, for example, to integrate it with third-party apps and professional networks such as LinkedIn, he said, or job portals such as Jumpstart and Indeed.
“If we are able to, and once the teammates are a little free, I really want to make something out of it,” he said.
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