This summer, BrainStation hosted their first Stay at Home Hackathon in partnership with Microsoft. We caught up with two members of the winning team, Data Science alum Nick Mahon and UX Design alum Jung Oh, so they could walk us through their app FocusBuddy. Plus, Jung and Nick share what it was like to work remotely with UX designers and data scientists, and how the BrainStation bootcamps prepared them for building out a winning app in just three days!
Nick, what inspired you to enroll in Brainstation's Data Science bootcamp?
Nick: I did a lot of coding on the side while in college even though it wasn't a part of my degree. Brainstation’s Data Science bootcamp was a great way for me to dive deeper into Python and be better trained to utilize the data that is available all over the world.
Jung, why did you want to make a career switch from Urban Planner to UX Designer at Brainstation's UX Design bootcamp?
Jung: I didn't have much guidance growing up or a clear career plan, but I knew that I wanted to make cool things and have an impact. At first, I thought that I could do that through Urban Planning. As I spent some time in the field, though, that career didn't match my expectations. I became interested in industrial design and that led me to my discovery of the UX industry. I met an individual working in UX and spoke with them at length over coffee. I asked him questions about his career and that conversation inspired me to pursue it myself.
What was the application and interview process like for each of you at Brainstation?
Nick: I contacted BrainStation and they gave me an initial phone screen to see if I was the right fit for the bootcamp. It's a big time commitment, and BrainStation wants you to know exactly what you are applying for. Then, I spoke with a second BrainStation rep for a phone interview. They asked me questions about myself and my technical knowledge. Following that, I was given an assessment project on data that covered the basics of SQL. It was challenging because I had never used SQL before, but I passed. Within a few weeks, I made it into the data science bootcamp.
Jung: All UX designers who apply to BrainStation’s UX Design bootcamp go through a design challenge. For my challenge, I made a food delivery app. It was a learning experience before I even started the program!
Nick, what did you learn in the Data Science curriculum?
Nick: The first thing that BrainStation teaches you in the Data Science bootcamp is SQL and how to shift through large amounts of data and manipulate it. From there, they move into statistical analysis and using tools, like Python and R. Using the data, we found real information. Next, we covered machine learning where we looked at large sums of data to predict things using different test cases. We also used computer vision. After that, we put it all together and began to work on our capstone project. Everyone in my cohort chose a specialty, and I chose to focus my capstone on neural networks.
Jung, what kinds of design technologies and skills did you learn in BrainStation’s UX Design bootcamp?
Jung: What didn't we learn? Brainstation’s UX design program does a good job at covering the foundations of the UX industry and the typical design process. Technologies included in the program were industry standard software, such as the editor Sketch. What I personally found interesting was the animation aspect, though it was briefly discussed due to the limited time we had in the bootcamp. Making screens come to life by putting them in motion was fun!
Your team’s project was chosen as the winner of BrainStation and Microsoft’s Stay At Home Hackathon! What was the problem you were asked to solve in this hackathon?
Jung: Teams were asked to think about people being forced to work at home due to the pandemic. We needed to further define these problems and create solutions for them, and we were given three days to build our project end-to-end.
How was Microsoft involved in this hackathon?
Nick: Microsoft provided three mentors that we could speak with. Throughout the entire process, if we had questions, these Microsoft mentors were always there. They laid down the guidelines to what we were doing and made sure everyone was having fun. Microsoft kept up morale by hosting mini games throughout the day and ensured that we had the resources we needed. They gave us hints as to how to relate our projects back to Microsoft because they wanted our apps to be compatible with their software.
Jung, what did your team decide to build?
Jung: My team chose to create an app called FocusBuddy that collects data to give remote workers insight into their work habits and offers tips to improve on them. FocusBuddy’s features include productivity measuring, productivity goal setting, and posture tracking. Our research determined that working together created synergy and reinforced productive work habits, so we integrated a virtual version of that within a teamwork session section.
To incorporate the data and design components of the project, we used Computer Vision to track how many times the user picks up their phone. FocusBuddy notifies them to make them aware of bad habits. We also included a leaderboard so a user can compare their productivity with their friends. It's a social aspect to help the user become more motivated. Daily goals can be set and the program will help you achieve those goals by coaching you. We also took into consideration the health of the user, so we included five water breaks within the program. We found evidence that taking those breaks are important to your overall productivity.
The app charts a user’s progress throughout their week, month, and year. Contacts can be selected and called to discuss ideas or work together and share screens, which helps people to keep themselves accountable.
How did you collaborate remotely as a group?
Nick: In any data science team, the first step is gathering the data. For the UX team, that's the very last step. We had a lot of discussions together about what our team wanted from this app and made sure everyone's voices were heard. Everyone had a job to do. We found a project that incorporated a heavy amount of data science and a good amount of UX, and it came together to make a great app. Communication was key to our success!
What were the strengths of having data scientists and UX designers on the same team working on this project?
Jung: It was great to have different disciplines be a part of the team because inherently UX designers are required to work together with various stakeholders. The greatest strength we leveraged out of having the BrainStation data science alums Ali Eddeb and Nick was their ability to draw insights from a raw collection of data. That's what set us above the competition. To us the UX designers, the data may seem meaningless, but to Nick and Ali they saw valuable information there and they teased that out. That’s why we felt that using Computer Vision was the right way to go with this project.
Nick, how did data science contribute to this project?
Nick: We needed to be certain that what we were trying to achieve with the app was possible, so we made a proof of concept of something that could pick up objects on the screen and relate it back to FocusBuddy. You want the user to stay focused and so you give them reminders to keep them on track. When a user picks up their phone, we want to be sure that they see a phone in the app’s Computer Vision. If you pick up your phone, it will know and identify it. If you pick up your water bottle, it will keep track of that and give the user points. It was fun working with Computer Vision on this project because we were able to explore video images. While we were at Brainstation, we mainly focused on still images, but we did learn something similar to Computer Vision called Image Analysis. To complete our hackathon project, our team had to do research on Computer Vision and how to implement video images. Using the video images was a learning experience and the results were good!
Did your team use other technologies in order to build this project?
Nick: For Ali and myself, it was mainly Python. Ali used his own stuff, including Photoshop for the commercial. The UX team had more complex directives.
Jung: For me, the highlight of this project is the commercial that we made! In terms of the UX side of this project, we used Sketch along with Invision to prototype our brief mockup. Because of the short length of time we were given and because we quickly needed to make our minimum viable product, we did not use other technologies.
What was your team’s biggest challenge while building this project?
Jung: Defining the problem to pinpoint the best solution was the biggest UX design challenge.
Nick: I agree with you. During the hackathon, we took the first day to decide exactly what problem we were addressing and what our product was going to do to solve it. We didn't have our idea set until the second day, and that's when we began working on the project.
Did the Brainstation instructors help you during the Hackathon?
Nick: BrainStation was there for support, but did not actively work with us on our project. If we had questions, we could come to them for information.
Nick, how did this hackathon experience improve your own career development as a new data scientist?
Nick: This has definitely been added to the resume! When you’re on the job hunt, it’s important to show who you are and what you enjoy doing, and I thoroughly enjoyed this Hackathon. I had a couple of job interviews, and this project was something employers were eager to hear about. When people see a hackathon mentioned, they immediately ask what the project was, who I worked with, what steps were taken, and if I enjoyed it. This hackathon experience has been a lucrative conversation piece. As stressful as the hackathon was, it was a relaxed environment. My team went at a comfortable pace and held great communication, respect, and consideration for each other. We made a fantastic product that I'm extremely proud of to share.
For me, the biggest takeaway from this was working with UX and seeing how data science is intertwined with everything else. If you do not know what you're doing, who you are working with, or the right questions to ask, you won't be able to utilize all of the data science tools available to the full effect. It was nice working with our UX team to come up with the direct questions and work together to make our final product.
Jung, what are you working on today as a Product Designer at Smart Infrastructure Maintenance Applications Inc.?
Jung: I'm the only designer on the team at a small, early-stages startup. That's been an interesting experience because I am leading the design process for several products that we are making. I had to hit the ground running, but it's been great.
Jung, how did you get your first job in UX design after bootcamp graduation?
Jung: I was posting relevant things on Twitter and LinkedIn here and there. In the end, that’s what made an impact on my job search. My friend from high school saw my portfolio, and was interested in working together with me on a startup. We connected through LinkedIn, met up and had an interview over a coffee.
Since this virtual hackathon focused on working from home, do you think this remote experience made you better remote employees?
Nick: Yes, it was a really good experience working through virtual meeting software and learning as a team remotely. Having a real-world project to work on with others involved self-discipline. I had to stay on track and stay in the loop with video calls and conferencing. Whether on an interview or a coffee chat, I'm now accustomed to relaying my messages through video chats. I am not nervous going into remote work at all.
Jung, are you glad that you enrolled at BrainStation to make the career-change into UX Design?
Jung: BrainStation was one of the biggest purchases in my life, so I take this question seriously. You don't know what you don't know, and BrainStation provides a wonderful foundation to further your knowledge of the industry. I'm very thankful to BrainStation for that. They also offer an excellent network to become a part of. Your peers become additional nodes in the network that could potentially provide you with opportunities.
Nick, would you recommend BrainStation’s data science bootcamp to a friend?
Nick: As Jung said, BrainStation provides an excellent foundation, and you get a little bit of everything in the bootcamp. There is so much curriculum to absorb that the program could be extended to six months. After the program is done, the work isn't over for the student. It's time to take that foundation and use it to dive deeper, study, and explore. I recommend BrainStation because it's a huge step in the right direction. I would never have known how to learn what I can now and what would most benefit me in my career. That's what BrainStation did for me. It was a very good experience.