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Rithm Grads Win First Place in StepZen Hackathon

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Rithm School

Sep 6, 2022

We met up with new Rithm grads Anita Lee and Melanie Wong to chat about their recent first-place win of the StepZen hackathon. Their winning app, Kid Vault, was built not only with technologies they learned at Rithm, but also with technologies that were new to them, and solved a problem they both had as busy moms and professionals. 


How did you find out about the StepZen hackathon? What made you decide to participate? 

Anita: I discovered the hackathon on Devpost.com. During Rithm’s Professional Projects session (Internship), part of our cohort worked with GraphQL. Our cohort-mate Robyn Lam introduced GraphQL to the rest of us through her lightning talk. It is an intriguing alternate way to implement SQL queries. So finding out about a GraphQL hackathon after we finished our Rithm Professional Project was good timing.

Melanie: I first heard about the hackathon from Anita and I was really excited to do it because it felt like a perfect way to use my newly acquired skills after graduation. I’d worked with GraphQL in my internship and thought doing the hackathon would help with my confidence in speaking during job interviews (which it totally did!).


How did you come up with the idea to build Kid Vault? 

Anita: Melanie and I are moms, and so with that shared lens, we brainstormed on how GraphQL could make our lives easier. Both of us have felt firsthand the pains of filling out forms for our kids’ schools, doctor’s office, and after school programs/sports, most of which are asking for the same information and/or just need only minor annual updates! It really aligned with what GraphQL does.

Melanie: I think Anita is being generous here, because I would say she was really the brains behind the idea! She mentioned it and I was immediately on board because it was a brilliant solution to the ridiculous amounts of paperwork involved in parenting. And luckily, it not only satisfied the hackathon requirements, but was also a really perfect fit to showcase what makes GraphQL and StepZen so cool. 


Kid Vault is built with (obviously) StepZen, but also with Flask, React, and PostgreSQL. Why did you decide on those technologies? 

Melanie: The StepZen and GraphQL pieces were required, since that was the goal of this particular hackathon. The rest I would say leaned heavily on projects we completed during our time at Rithm, especially during the Jobly and Choose Your Own Adventure sprints. These technologies were most comfortable to us since we had a really solid foundation with them so it was very efficient and practical to go this direction, particularly when we had to learn StepZen from scratch and dive way deeper into GraphQL than we previously had. 


What roles did you each play in working on the app? 

Anita: Melanie built the React front end and was the StepZen GraphQL master. She was most comfortable with GraphQL since she’d used it with Apollo during the Rithm Professional Projects. I handled the back end with Flask and PostgreSQL, as well as putting together the graphics and creating the content for our presentation. 

Our cohort-mate Christian Alcalde was our video professional. He made the video that told the story of our project, technically and conceptually. We didn’t expect much with such limited time, as we had to finish the prototype to start the video, but Christian nailed it in half a night plus 2 hours of edits in the morning. He is a true professional! Many were wowed by how polished the video was. I’m fairly certain the high-quality execution helped us edge to the top of the contenders.


How did your time at Rithm prepare you to build Kid Vault? 

Anita: Rithm gave us a deep dive into fullstack software development through a rotation of lectures and actual building: learn deeply by doing. Without this rigorous hands-on training, we would not have known where to start or have had the confidence to compete in this technical hackathon after only 16 weeks of learning. Armed with a Rithm education, we quickly translated our new and old skills to create the story and working prototype of Kid Vault in less than two weeks. 

Melanie: Seriously—within two weeks of graduation we were able to plan out this entire application, learn a new technology, build it out with a minimal amount of bugs and talk about our choices intelligently and convincingly enough to win first prize! When I think of everything we managed to accomplish in this hackathon, I feel I could literally point to the exact pieces of the Rithm curriculum that made it all possible. 

What’s next for each of you? 

Melanie: I’m starting at Let’s Get Set, a fintech startup created for moms, in September.

Anita: I am currently searching for the right role that will fit into my family’s work-life balance needs. Christian is actively searching for a front-end developer role. With his video/graphic skills, he would make a well-rounded hire!


Anything else you’d like readers to know? 

Anita: Technology is a powerful tool. Coding bootcamp programs like Rithm increase the diversity of people building the technologies that tomorrow uses. This is important, because if more moms were driving what gets built, we would have had Kid Vault a long time ago! It’s a no-brainer! As schools open up and the annual ritual to fill out a pile of school forms starts again, families are feeling the same pain points we do. Perhaps one day Kid Vault will do the querying and transfer of information for parents/guardians everywhere.

Melanie: I second everything Anita said! Also, Rithm truly altered my life in a way I didn’t fully believe was possible, especially not in such a short amount of time. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone looking into coding bootcamps. And if you’ve graduated already and are getting burnt out on the job hunt, get yourself out there and do a hackathon!! It’ll bring back the excitement and passion of actual coding and the experience is sure to drastically improve your interviews going forward! 

Anita: I second that, too!

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