My Best Internship Yet

On the Monday that I started interning, I remember being one of the first couple of people in the office, showing up at 9:30 in the morning. It was a very rare occurrence that would, unfortunately, never happen again. I had a lot of firsts that day. I was an intern for the first time (note the title) and shook a co-worker’s hand for the first time. I ate food from a San Francisco food truck for the first time. I drank soylent for the first time. I promised myself to never drink soylent again for the first time.

Despite being an intern, I had complete control over whatever work I wanted to do, since projects were free to chose from. Most of my time was spent helping develop the iOS SDK and demo app, but I also made contributions to the backend. I learned all those convenient terminal commands that I never bothered to learn in college classes. I learned about docker and microservice architecture and the pain of pulling images. I learned how to write clean, production-level Swift code that is well-tested and well-tested and really well-tested. I even learned, on multiple occasions, how to create retain cycles — which is not a good thing, since they crash the app fairly quickly.

For the most part, UnifyID gave me maximum creative freedom. There was pretty much just one annoying rule — never push changes directly to dmz, our staging branch — but I made sure to break that one a few times. The dmz branch is now push-protected. Special shoutout to Micah for failing to stop me at first.

Just another day in the office

UnifyID does some really cool stuff with machine learning like identifying who you are based on your gait. After being surrounded by smart machine learning engineers and data scientists, I got more into machine learning and worked on a small side project during my free time on weekends (and during a day or two in the office, see “lax and carefree environment”). Gonna have to shamelessly promote it real quick since it’s pretty cool, check it out here.

I’m now way more motivated to take data-oriented classes and pursue research opportunities, something I never seriously thought about before. If I hadn’t interned at UnifyID, where innovative machine learning algorithms are just one git pull away, I doubt I’d be as interested in machine learning as I am now.

I’ll have some awesome memories of my time coding in the office. Feeling like a boss as the CI tests pass with green check marks. Earning Yuliia’s approval as she cautiously merges my branch into her. Shout out to Yuliia for asking me to help out on iOS work during my first week and trusting me with a bunch of responsibilities throughout the summer.

I’ll remember the funny and good moments outside of work too. The late-night dinner conversations with Andres and Pascal. Isaac mixing up Divyansh and Vinay. Chunyu and I throwing some solid insults at Lef in Chinese. (Lef threw some insults back at us in Greek, but I’m sure they weren’t as creative).

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to work on cool stuff over the summer; and grateful for all the help the engineers and product managers have given me, and the tips and tricks they’ve taught me. I’m humbled and feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work in such an intellectual and driven, yet fun-filled, environment.

I’m sad to be leaving, but I’ll make sure to advertise UnifyID loud and proud when I’m back at UCSD — by wearing the extra company t-shirts I’ve surreptitiously accumulated over the summer.


HackMIT: Hack to the Future

In the past couple of months, UnifyID has been busy attending university hackathons at MIT and UC Berkeley. What this means is hours and hours of non-stop hacking, but it also means unlimited snacks, mini midnight workouts, and lots of young, passionate coders working to create impactful projects.

On September 16, John Whaley flew to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend HackMIT: Hack to the Future where he had the opportunity to meet more than 1500 students from all different universities. Representing a16z, John participated in a fireside chat where he covered a variety of topics including what it’s like to work in a startup, choosing industry versus graduate school, and building a company on machine learning. He discussed the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, team-building, fundraising, and more, as students picked his brain about technical topics and career advice. Later, John was able to speak more in depth during his tech talk about UnifyID and identifying individuals based on gait. Students were deeply interested in the problem UnifyID is trying to solve as well as the impact and intellectual aspect of UnifyID’s approach to the issue.

John poses with a16z representative Nigel at HackMIT.

Aside from his fireside chat and tech talk, John had the opportunity to mentor hackers in their own projects. His favorite part was meeting and interacting with all of the students, seeing their ambition, passion, and genuine interest in the projects that they were working on. He also enjoyed the intense energy in the arena, choosing to stay and mentor hackers until 3am.

After 24 hours of hard work and non stop hacking at MIT, many groups of students presented their projects. Projects covered a wide range of topics from virtual reality games to homework-help mobile applications. Even though John had been to plenty of hackathons in the past, he was still amazed by the caliber and level of innovation that the students were able to reach in their projects. The first place prize ended up going to a group of students who created Pixelator, “a simple product that sharpens blurry images without a lot of code.”

Cal Hacks 4.0

A few weeks later, on October 6, Andres Castaneda crossed the Bay to attend Cal Hacks 4.0 at the UC Berkeley Stadium. With nearly 1500 students listening, he gave a presentation about UnifyID’s Android SDK and API, receiving a positive response from students who believed it was a revolutionary idea. Similar to John at MIT, Andres also had the opportunity to mentor up-and-coming hackers. For 36 hours, he helped students solve technical challenges as they competed for over $100,000 in prizes, including UnifyID’s contribution: a $300 Amazon giftcard and a Rick and Morty card game.

Based on the level of positive impact, innovation, and technical difficulty, the winning hack for UnifyID’s prize was Safescape, a mobile application that analyzes real-time news articles and alerts people in areas of “non-safe” events. It uses UnifyID’s Android SDK to validate individuals on the application. Inspired by the recent natural and terror crises occurring globally, Safescape also provides those in danger with potential escape routes, allows them to alert others around them, and contains a simple way to contact loved ones.

Andres’ favorite part about participating in Cal Hacks was “seeing people build a product from 0 to 1 in 36 hours.” He also found it hilarious that many students brought sleeping bags and threw them on the floor for intermittent opportunities to take naps.

Andres poses with mentees and previous UnifyID interns Aditya and Michael.

UnifyID is a strong supporter of hackathons because they provide great opportunities to connect with university students. Witnessing the high caliber of work accomplished at these events, UnifyID is inspired by young hackers who are truly passionate about making an impact in the world. These students represent a large diversity of talent from all different schools and backgrounds and are able to demonstrate what students are interested in nowadays. Additionally, hackathons allow UnifyID the chance to give back to the community. They are not only learning opportunities for up-and-coming hackers, but they also help UnifyID to understand how to cater to students’ interests and needs. After 2 hackathons in the span of one month, UnifyID is channeling its focus back to the day-to-day for now; however, we cannot wait for the next one!

A Unique Experience – Interning at UnifyID

I get mixed up with my friend Eric a lot. In the picture above, I’m on the left and Eric is on the right. We have similar builds, wear glasses, and although Eric will tell you he’s incomparably more handsome than me, even our close friends will accidentally call me, Eric and Eric, Isaac on campus at UCSD. I thought the peak of our similarities were when we both accepted full-stack internships at UnifyID in San Francisco this summer, but I realized I was mistaken. On Day 1, Eric and I had gone and picked out the exact same outfit for our internship debut. We had black t-shirts, tan chinos, blue shoes, and even opposite desks to really sell the mirror illusion. At a company built upon faith in each individual’s uniqueness, initially, I could not have felt more out of place. 

Despite our many similarities, Eric and I do have our differences, and they showed in how we dealt with our first-day jitters. I smiled politely and tried not to get in anyone’s way; Eric dropped the f-bomb before lunch. Having prior experience at a company where that sort of thing wouldn’t fly, I took it upon myself to pull him aside and tell him to rein it in. I thought that I had done him a favor until later that day when a full-time engineer casually slung a string of curses at his monitor with even more gusto than Eric had. It was then that I started to realize that working at UnifyID would be unlike anything I had experienced before.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised that UnifyID gives its employees the space to be themselves. Our mission is to identify people by what makes them unique–to squash those qualities would be sacrilege. As a result of this, the atmosphere is lighter and the conversations more genuine.

Me, excelling.

In the three months that I spent at UnifyID, I came to realize that it is this freedom that makes the team work as well as it does. I never felt like I had to put energy into trying to fill the role of the intern I thought I should be. Instead, I could just go in every day as myself. Once I realized this and started to embrace it, my productivity and sense of fulfillment soared. I went on to make significant contributions to our Android SDK, from redesigning our service architecture to developing a full suite of end to end tests. Now at the end of my internship, I find myself a far better engineer than I entered, lost trying to find where the time has gone, and sad to say goodbye to the friends I’ve made.

It’s difficult to describe a summer of my experiences at UnifyID in a few short paragraphs. But in a word? I would say, authentic.