Alumni Spotlight

Meet the Winning Team from App Academy’s Hackathon

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Jennifer Inglis

Edited By Jennifer Inglis

Last updated on March 21, 2024

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In a recent Hackathon, App Academy alumni from different cohorts faced off in a competition to make the best application for real-world clients. Ashkaun (Ash) Iranfar, Freddy Rendon, and Emily Morgan, three members of App Academy’s winning Hackathon team, walk us through the mental health and wellness website application they built in just three weeks! Find out how this team leveraged what they learned at App Academy to overcome challenges and effectively build a working (and winning!) website. 

Ash, after spending years working in sales and bookkeeping, what inspired you to enroll in App Academy?

When I left my job in sales in 2022, I had a lot of ideas of what direction I wanted to go in. What really inspired me to join App Academy was taking a free CS course online and realizing four weeks into an 11-week course that it was the path I wanted. 

I chose App Academy for a few reasons: 

  • App Academy’s ratings were among the highest of all the bootcamps that I researched.
  • I had a couple of friends who had attended, so it came highly recommended. After chatting with them, I knew it was the right choice for me. 

Freddy, why did you want to make a career switch from electrical engineering to software engineering with App Academy? 

My passion for coding was sparked in college when I first encountered C#. The Covid-19 pandemic rekindled my interest in technology. After that, I decided to reconnect with my passion for coding and switch from electrical engineering to software development. I chose App Academy because of its reputation for offering a well-structured bootcamp environment. What really stood out for me were the rigorous interviews, which showcased their commitment to having a serious and focused learning environment for succeeding students. 

Emily, you have a background in mechanical engineering — what made you want to pivot into software?  

While I was studying mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, I got to know general engineering since it was a requirement before choosing a specialty. That was where I studied coding and other logic classes. Ultimately, I decided to go into mechanical engineering because of my background in robotics, but as I was studying I realized that the daily life of a mechanical engineer didn’t suit my interests and decided to make the switch back to software engineering. 

I chose App Academy because it's a reputable bootcamp. I have several family members who are software engineers and they helped me review the curriculum point-by-point and saw that the tech stack was up to par, so that really helped me make my decision.

What was the application and interview process like to get into App Academy? Did you need to know some coding in order to get into the bootcamp?

Ash: The application process and interview were pretty rigorous. After the application, there was a non-technical interview via Zoom as well as a technical assessment. I had almost no coding experience when I was applying, just a couple weeks of a free CS course. The application process showed me that it's important to App Academy who they let into their bootcamps.

What did App Academy’s curriculum cover? What were some of the main skills and languages that you learned?

Freddy: I attended App Academy in person, which consisted of two parts. In the first segment, we immersed ourselves in learning Ruby and algorithms, laying a strong foundation. We quickly evolved to the Rails framework where we immersed ourselves with back end development, including a SQL database. In the second part of the bootcamp, we shifted focus to JavaScript where we immersed ourselves in front end development, learning React. It's a super-comprehensive approach. It gave us a range of back end development as well as front end development skills.

Were there a lot of projects assigned during the bootcamp? What kinds of projects did you build as you made your way through the bootcamp?

Emily: There were lots of projects day-to-day. We would pair board with our cohort mates every day and work in teams. We also had three full stack projects throughout the course. The online full-time course is six months long, so you have a lot of time to really delve into those projects.  

  • Our first project was using JavaScript and React. We used JavaScript in the back end with Express as our server framework and SQL. We built the front end and the back end separately, over the course of two weeks for the first project. 
  • In our second project, we worked in groups of 3-4 people and got to delve deeper into working on a coding team, doing daily standups, and working on coding as a group. 
  • Our last project is our capstone where everybody individually showcases everything they’ve learned and we had three weeks to complete it. We had a TA acting as a project manager and we had to report to them and get plans approved before implementation. You can use any tech stack you want in the capstone since it’s a showcase of everything you've learned.

App Academy features a lot of in-depth projects that we were able to put in our portfolios! 

Tell us about the client your team was paired with — what was the project she wanted your team’s help with?

Emily: Our client was Christina LeClaire, who’s currently working on developing a mental health and wellness AI application, called Aurora. She wanted us to build a website to help promote her upcoming application. She wanted a custom content management system that allowed her to write blogs that were organized by topic, allowing users to find a specific blog based on what health and wellness area that they wanted to find. It also connected with a mail subscription, so she had us connected with her MailChimp account to allow users to subscribe for future updates about her upcoming project. 

Since Christina is a UI/UX designer, she had a highly developed, high-fidelity wireframe that she wanted us to follow, so it was really important to her that we delivered on the aesthetics and the look of the website as well as the functionality.

How much time were teams given to build their projects in this Hackathon? 

Freddy: The Hackathon consisted of 15 teams, with an average of five engineers per team. We were granted a total of three weeks to complete the project. The first week consisted of sourcing a client, followed by two weeks of building the application. Half of the team knew the framework due to their curriculum, but the in-person alumni on our team did not. I personally devoted around 60 hours per week to learning the Flask and Python frameworks and other technologies to make our applications stand out. 

What are the main features of the Aurora website? How would a user interact with it?

Ash: On the user side of the application, the homepage gives information about Aurora. There’s an email subscription button, some of the benefits of the app, and user testimonials. There’s a bio about the founder and another place to sign up at the bottom of the homepage. 

The meat of the page is the blog content. If you go over the article topics, you get all of the topics that she has blog posts about. If you click one, it gives you a list of all of the blogs that are available on that topic. All the blogs that are pertaining to each topic are associated on the same page. You can also contact her directly if you have any questions. 

We wanted the whole website to be dynamic in order for her to be able to update it as she grows, so most of what’s on the homepage is customizable. We built an entire administration side where she can make changes, and add and remove blogs. Every blog has a thumbnail for a background. As testimonials come in, she can choose which ones she wants to display in the carousel on the homepage. 

Like Emily said, we linked her MailChimp account to the site. It’s collecting a list of subscribers, so when she does launch her application, she'll have a list of people who are interested in using the app!

What programming languages and tools did your team use to upgrade the client’s app? Did you use everything you learned at App Academy or did your team have to learn any new technologies to build it?

Emily: We used Flask, Python, and SQLAlchemy for our back end and JavaScript and React for our front end, which we learned at App Academy. We also used new frameworks, like the FUSE library for our search algorithm. We used TipTap for our rich text editor and a bunch of React libraries. We implemented unit testing for the back end, which is not something that App Academy taught us, to protect and maintain the back end API. We also built a CIC pipeline using GitHub Actions with Docker to streamline the uploading and process of making new changes to the website. 

What was it like to create this app with four other software engineers? How did your team delegate responsibilities and effectively collaborate?

Ash: Working with four other engineers was great! It gave us really good real-world experience of what it will be like working on projects in future jobs. Our entire team worked really closely together to delegate responsibilities and collaborate whenever we needed. It was a pleasure working with a team of talented engineers! 

What was it like working with a client (who would go on to use whatever you built!) on this project? 

Ash: Our client made the process very straightforward for us. Christina had a vision we could stick to and she had the creative side handled for us. It allowed us to focus on the functionality and performance of the project. We had weekly meetings with her to give updates on our progress. 

What was your team’s biggest challenge while building this project?

Freddy: The biggest challenge was that half of the team knew the framework and the other half did not, so we had to play catch up. I leaned heavily on the App Academy online curriculum, where I ended up learning Flask and Python in about three days! 

What kinds of resources did you have if you got stuck? Were the App Academy instructors or TAs there to provide support?

Emily: We were definitely an independent team since this is a postgraduate project and we’d learned everything that we needed. We didn't have instructional help, but we did have all of the documentation and any independent research that we could need. We were also bouncing ideas off of software engineers that we had worked with in the past.

Ash, did this hackathon experience improve your own career development as a new software engineer? 

The Hackathon definitely helped my development as a new engineer and gave me a lot of invaluable experience working on a team, working with a real-world client and understanding her needs for this project, and meeting deadlines. It gave me more ways to showcase my skills as an engineer, and it gave me another project to add to my resume and portfolio. It was a great experience that I would most likely do again! 

Freddy, will you be talking about this Hackathon experience in job interviews? 

It's a great talking point on my resume that I definitely use in job interviews! There are a lot of technologies that we incorporated, such as a CICD pipeline, Docker, and AWS, where the application is hosted. 

Emily, how has this Hackathon experience helped you in your tech job search? 

I have so much more knowledge and experience to pull from when I'm talking about myself. The main benefit of the Hackathon was having real-world professional experience with the client and being able to have that rapport with her and adjust our projects to meet her expectations. That was very interesting and different from an academic project. That experience was key! 

At this point in your tech career, was App Academy worth it for you? 

Ash: As someone who had basically zero coding experience before App Academy, I do think it was worth it. The amount of knowledge that I gained in 24 weeks was at times overwhelming, but the curriculum helps you learn, and learn quickly. 

Freddy: It was a hundred percent worth it! I do not regret the decision. In fact, if I could do it all over again, I would! I've gained so much knowledge because App Academy teaches you how to learn. 

Emily: I can't imagine where I would be right now if I hadn't taken a bootcamp. It has completely changed my life and the whole trajectory of where I see myself in 10 years. It was absolutely worth it!

Find out more and read App Academy reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with App Academy.

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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