Project Spotlight

Meet the Winning Team from Flatiron School’s Hackonomics

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Jennifer Inglis

Edited By Jennifer Inglis

Last updated on May 6, 2024

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Flatiron School’s Hackonomics hackathon asked participating teams of bootcamp alumni to create personal finance applications that leveraged AI. We caught up with three members of the winning hackathon team, Logan Lampton, Sheena Sang, and Matthew Thomas-Wicher to take a virtual tour of their app, Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt, which they built in just 19 days! They share what it was like integrating OpenAI into their tech stack and design, and how this project has enhanced their overall employability. 

Sheena, what inspired you to enroll in Flatiron School’s Software Engineering Bootcamp in 2022?

For me, it started in 2020 when I was teaching English in Japan during COVID. I was able to work with some amazing people, one of whom began their tech career by attending a coding bootcamp! They built a web application for English speakers in Japan to receive information about getting vaccinated. It really helped the local community and even got attention from developers at Google and Facebook! I was inspired to see how someone with a similar background got into tech with no previous knowledge or experience and built a web application that quickly gained acclaim. When I made it back to the U.S. and did my research, I found Flatiron School and really liked what they had to offer. 

Matt, why did you decide to get into UX design in 2020?

I was a political science major and I moved to Washington, DC, thinking of going to law school. I went down that path for a few years and I realized at the very end that it wasn't for me. I had a buddy who switched careers after going to Flatiron School. He had great things to say about the bootcamp, so I did some research, took my own UX course online and I loved it! I decided to dive into UX then. I quit my job and moved to Chicago for Flatiron School’s fully immersive program.

Logan, there are so many coding bootcamps out there — what stood out about Flatiron School? 

I’ve had good friends who have gone to various bootcamps, and many who went to Flatiron School and really liked it. What sealed the deal for me was asking friends who went to other bootcamps what they thought of Flatiron School and hearing resounding affirmation about Flatiron’s credibility and prestige. They assured me that if I went to Flatiron School I would be in good hands.

Sheena, when you were applying to the Software Engineering Bootcamp, did you need to know some coding to get in?

The great thing about Flatiron School is that they offer pre-work that you complete before starting the bootcamp. It gives you an understanding of coding basics so you aren't lost on day one. It covers basic terminology like arrays, loops, and initializing variables, which gives you a major advantage compared to someone who didn’t get that intro. 

Learning how to code is very similar to learning a new language. If you land in a country that speaks a language you don’t know, you’d be lost, confused, and frustrated! The pre-work from Flatiron School really helped me in the long run. It took me a month before starting the bootcamp to complete the pre-work and while it was difficult to grasp at first, the dots started connecting once I was in the program. 

Logan, what were some of the main programming languages and skills that you learned in the Software Engineering Bootcamp at Flatiron School?

When I graduated in 2022, we learned JavaScript and the React framework plus Ruby and Ruby on Rails. Now Flatiron School teaches Python and Flask instead of Ruby. We also learned SQL and worked a little with Sinatra as well.

Matt, when you were in the UX Design bootcamp in 2020, what did you work on?

We worked on smaller teams of people from different backgrounds, which is crucial in this career. We got to work on many different projects together, about four projects in total. I was able to include most of them in my portfolio, which is one of the most important things when you're on the job search! It was really helpful to have accumulated all of those artifacts while attending Flatiron School. 

You all graduated a few years ago, so what inspired you to participate in the Flatiron School’s Hackonomics hackathon this year?

Logan: I like to be part of the tech community as much as possible, especially since I live in New York. I'm actually going to an event at the Flatiron School’s New York City campus tonight! I also wanted to learn some new tech stacks, like Python Flask. I had not had as much experience with UI design, and joining this hackathon meant being able to work with design experts like Matt. I wanted to get to work with awesome, collaborative people to make a really cool project that we could show off to our friends and family and learn some stuff along the way. Hackonomics definitely fits that bill!

Sheena: This is my second hackathon for Flatiron School, but I've done a couple of others outside of Flatiron. Every time I compete it's usually stressful and an incredibly collaborative experience. The payout at the end is what's really worth it. 

By participating in Hackonomics, I got an awesome project that I can add to my resume. I’ve become more fluent in the way that I speak about technology and the way that my application works. Plus, it impresses employers when I’m networking. It’s really important to have these projects and be able to talk about my experiences for my career growth. 

I especially love the collaborative aspect of a hackathon — you get to learn so much from other people who know more than you do or who know a different way of doing things.

Matt: I love building things outside of my day job.  It keeps the creative juices flowing. It's also a great idea to learn how to collaborate with all different types of people. One of the biggest things from this hackathon was the fact that you're able to come out of this with something to add to your portfolio. Having your portfolio up-to-date with new technologies and projects is key to staying competitive in this job market.

What was the overall goal of your team’s Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt mobile application? How did your team decide to go in this direction?   

Matt: We were given a project brief with our user goals and personas, which we analyzed and came up with the idea for this app. We were then tasked with building an AI platform that was able to help users track their finances and plan for the future.

How much time were teams given to build their Hackonomics projects? 

Sheena: Each team had 19 days to get to their MVP, and that included all the planning, the alignment meetings, setup, more alignment meetings, coding, and also working together to debug. A few of us had other responsibilities outside of the hackathon, but most of us put in an average of 4-6 hours a day. Towards the end of the project, we put in way more time than that to complete it! 

Walk us through Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt! What are some of the main features of the app?

Logan: Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt gives users a look at what they're spending, including generalized insights and insights specific to their goals. It also helps users make sure they're staying on track with their spending and gives them a forecast of what AI anticipates they need to spend in the future based on what they've spent in the past. 

On the homepage it has the time, location, and how much you have spent that month after you’ve connected any bank accounts you wish to use. There's a snapshot graph of the monthly cash flow. It shows how much they will have earned this month, how much they've already spent, and how much they have left to meet their financial goals. 

The app allows users to create goals, such as saving for a cruise, Christmas gifts, etc. Users can specify if it’s a personal or  group goal and can share it with others through the app to save together! Users can also set a specific date to reach their goal, all of which translates onto the homepage. They will see financial insights based on their spending directly from the AI which will offer suggestions on how to lower spending. 

Which programming languages and tools did your team use to build this out?

Sheena: We made it look like it was a mobile application, but it's technically a web application. We used several tools and languages to build this out:

  • JavaScript with a React framework
  • Python and Flask for the back end
  • SQLAlchemy for our database
  • Twilio for our two-factor authentication
  • OpenAI API 
  • Plaid for the dummy bank information 

How does your application incorporate AI?

The information we got from Plaid provided us with a lot of transactions that we could play around with and feed to the AI. We had a dummy API that we used to facilitate a lot of this information. We used the AI to feed it banking information from Plaid, specifically transactions from a certain time period. Then we told the model to analyze those transactions based on the categories and the amount spent to provide predictions for those spending habits. We asked for a response and then formatted it a certain way so that the front end could pull from that information as well. 

Luckily with the Applied API, it wasn't that expensive if you use the GPT 3.5 model. In giving it all of the information, we were able to tell it to give us a specific response and what we wanted the recommendations to sound like. We were able to get those for the savings goals, and then the predictions and insights for the future. 

Some examples of how the AI in our application can help users save money:

  • If someone has a lot of subscription services, it can tell them to review and consider canceling services that they no longer use.  
  • If someone spends a lot on something like car insurance, our AI will suggest looking into cheaper car insurance. The AI will give the user hints on how they can save. 

There were full stack developers, a product designer, and a data scientist on the team! How did everyone work together and contribute to the project in such a short span of time? 

Matt: We met on the first day and assessed our collective strengths and weaknesses and then divvied up the work that aligned to our strengths. From there we were able to build out a framework that worked for the rest of the project and a timeline to ensure that we met our deadlines. That first day was crucial in identifying where everyone would be able to chip in and provide the most value for the team. 

Matt, since you’ve been working in product design for a few years, did you feel like you learned anything new by working on Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt?

Getting to work with data scientists and engineers is a great experience for the field that I'm in! I also got to learn a lot about AI, which has sparked new interest in things I want to do outside of my day job. I like to code in my free time and thanks to this team, I’m starting to dabble in AI and various other technologies that we were able to use during our time together.

Logan, what kinds of resources did your team have if you got stuck? Was Flatiron School there to provide support if you needed it?

Flatiron School gave us some nice design documents to get us started on what a potential user interface could look like and other design ideas we could use. They gave us an hour-long intro conversation about what we were looking for. Those things helped a lot, but we were mostly on our own. We did lean heavily on each other. It was great that we had so many different skill sets to help each other out. Plus, while working with AI, it's nice to ask AI about itself! We had all the design documentation for using Open AI, Plaid, or any other technology we were using, but we definitely helped each other a lot. 

What’s next for Ctrl + Alt + Defeat Debt? Will members of your team continue to work on it?

Logan: While it is a hackathon project, it is always close to our hearts. We have worked on iterating it a bit since the hackathon concluded. Our goal is to iron out the last few things and then deploy it so that it lives in posterity on the web and we can say we built a great, living app!

Sheena, what kind of impact do you believe this hackathon has had on your tech career?

I have an amazing project to show for it! This opportunity gave me the ability to dive deep into an application using AI in a real-world project. There are a lot of finance applications out there, but they’re not all utilizing and leveraging AI to enhance their user experience. Everyone is trying to get AI in their applications, so now that I have a bit more knowledge of it and how to build it, it's given me a lot of confidence to talk about it and show my passion to prospective employers! It really comes through at networking events and has already helped me land a few freelance contracts — just saying that I’ve worked with AI before and can showcase what I was able to do really impresses people!

At this point in your tech careers, was Flatiron School worth it for you? 

Sheena: 100%. With the competitive job market and graduating right as AI hit the mainstream, there have been some ups and downs since I graduated from Flatiron School. Even though I've been working with AI, I'm still pretty hopeful that it's not going to do away with our jobs. As a career transitioner, it's opened up my skill set a thousand-fold! Coming from working as an English teacher in Japan and a program manager before that, there are plenty of tech-adjacent roles I can go for. I just got accepted as a program coordinator for a summer program for high school students to learn web development! This new role is giving back to my community, plus it incorporates my tech skill set. Because I understand programming, I can now speak to the tech instructors as well as manage students. Without Flatiron School, I wouldn’t be able to walk the walk and talk the talk!

Logan: Flatiron School has definitely been helpful to me. I liked the intensive in-person bootcamp, which was a great way to force myself to learn a lot right away because it can be hard to get through that much material otherwise. Without the structure of the bootcamp, it would have been easy for me to question if I could commit 9-10 hours a day to learning coding. Attending a coding bootcamp is a fun way to learn with a lot of other students who are going through the same thing as you, with a ton of support. 

Plus, the community doesn't stop at Flatiron School! I did this hackathon, and I have helped co-organize a mixer for tech professionals in New York with Flatiron School. It's been very helpful to kickstart my knowledge and enhance my sense of community as a tech professional!

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

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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