“There’s not a better way to give back to the community than doing what you love,” said Alex Kim, a rising sophomore at Rice University. This spring, Kim gave back to Houston by contributing to a project in Code for Good, a hackathon hosted by JPMorgan Chase.
For the hackathon, Kim joined a team of four other Rice freshmen who were equally passionate about computer science. The group of friends reviewed the two proposed projects and chose to work on an app for Neighborhood Centers, Inc. Kim said, “My team chose the app that would help socioeconomically challenged communities grow by providing programs that match their interests, and develop their passions while providing new job opportunities.”
Their project specifically called for the creation of a digital solution to prioritize the community’s agenda of project areas. Areas of interest ranged from entrepreneurial tips and strategies for interview success to educational aid.
“Our solution helped community members vote on the things they were interested in. It resulted in a clear and easy way for program coordinators to analyze datasets. When the community members came together previously, only people who were physically present in the meetings were able to vote. We created a way to provide voting access to everyone with Internet access (PC or smartphone),” Kim said.
One of the project’s challenges was a requirement to tailor the program for their target population. Though he had minimal experience with front-end development, Kim and his partner were tasked with creating a user interface that was simple, intuitive, and responsive.
Kim said he and his front-end partner spent a few hours working out the design, making sure they incorporated the Neighborhood Centers’ marketing theme of colorful simplicity. “To be honest,” he said, “we ended up scrapping our ideas many times. It was only after an arduous seven hours that we finally had a solid plan seamlessly incorporating all the little design features we wanted. Working alongside such experienced, team-oriented coders helped especially. Usually, that type of teamwork is hard to find.”
Hackathons often recruit mentors who assist teams on a first-come, first-served basis. At Code for Good, JPMorgan Chase provided mentors who rotated shifts so that each team had dedicated mentors around the clock. “When we were stuck on something, our mentors would help us look at things differently and suggest a more optimal solution,” said Kim.
Although his first CS courses at Rice had focused on back-end development, Kim applied what he had learned to solving front-end problems. “Our courses really prepared us for working on the back-end, but they also helped me to think analytically and attack problems from a fundamental standpoint for a creative, yet efficient UI design.”
In his freshman year, Kim’s interest began to shift from electrical engineering to computer science. “Through COMP 140, [a prerequisite he was taking for EE], I realized how much CS affects other fields. I wanted to have that impact on many fields of study, such as medicine and business. I like to have that kind of diversity in my life.”
Kim is undaunted by the department’s rigorous reputation because he has already discovered many resources among his professors and peers. He said, “It can be stressful at times, but it makes you do your best work. There is a kind of safety net – resources are here if you are struggling, everyone is willing to help. That is the key to pushing students: you can push them hard as long as you provide the resources they need. Having those resources on hand helps you learn, and also learn how to ask for help.”
Alex Kim completed his first CS course as a freshman in Fall 2015.
-Juliann Bi, Computer Science Assistant Publicist