Winning Father/Son Hackathon Team Generates Media Buzz

The story of Hoosier John Schevola and his 17-year-old son, Isaiah, winning the Indiana vs. Texas Civic Hackathon first broke in April, but the inspiring story is still making waves and generating buzz.

In addition to coverage in Indy media, John’s employer ran a story in the AT&T Insider; his college WGU Indiana ran two stories; and his hometown newspaper — The Reporter-Times of Martinsville & Morgan County, Ind., ran an excellent profile of John and Isaiah and their experiences participating in and ultimately winning the hackathon.

Here are some excerpts from those stories:

AT&T Indiana’s John Schevola Wins ‘#HACKINvTX’ Hackathon

By Joy Lucas
AT&T Insider Staff Writer

Imagine yourself surviving a natural disaster. You’re frantic. Scared. And your house is now in an unlivable condition. You need help. However, you’re not sure where to go to seek medical treatment, shelter or food. 

One of our employees developed an app that will make a difference in people’s lives during such a critical period of need. John Schevola, a telecommunications specialist from Indianapolis, participated in the three-week “#HackINvTX” civic hackathon with his 17-year-old son, Isaiah.

The father and son duo, who call themselves “Red Alert Indiana,” walked away with a total of $8,000 in prize winnings. But the real achievement is what they created for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS).

They designed a system for IDHS to help connect victims of natural disasters in Indiana with emergency or disaster assistance. Indiana and Texas programmers competed against each other with challenges provided by both states. John and Isaiah were up against professionals and came out on top – but for them, the focus was on having fun while learning.

“What a great experience John and Isaiah had, working together on this app challenge,” said AT&T Indiana State President Bill Soards. “We couldn’t be more proud of their dedication to helping others, and their role in showcasing the innovative spirit of Hoosiers.”

Behind the app: An inspiration
It’s hard not to wonder how John did it all. A father of three and a full-time employee at AT&T for 16 years, he took advantage of AT&T’s discounted offerings with Western Governor’s University by seeking an online information technology degree with an emphasis in software development. When asked if he had any hesitations about becoming a student again, he admitted that the time it takes to work and go to school full-time was a concern.

So how did this father-student-AT&T employee do it all? “I scheduled time for everything. From setting aside time for school to carving out time to spend with family, you really need to have strong time management skills and just buckle down and do it,” said John. “This is what I wanted. I looked at what it took to get into the programming department at AT&T and saw that the roles required a bachelor’s degree, so I worked on getting one. You can have real world experience, but I wanted something on paper to prove that I can do what I say I can do.”


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WGU Indiana Student Wins Hackathon

Martinsville father/son team earns top honor in Indiana v. Texas challenge

WGU Indiana student John Schevola and his son Isaiah were named as the winners of the #hackINvTX Challenge, a digital hackathon between application developers from Indiana and Texas. The series is an extended hackathon designed to build entrepreneurial culture, equip participants with marketable technology skills, and encourage professional networking across the country.

“This Hackathon has been a great event to foster openness and interaction between government and citizens,” said Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann. “One of our administration’s priorities is to encourage small business growth and development. Both of our Indiana winners will have the opportunity to work with the State and further develop their applications. The technology sector has evolved into a major economic development sector for Indiana. Tech-focused events like this will support and encourage more growth.”

Schevola, who is employed by AT&T, and Isaiah, a student at Indian Creek High School, made up the team “The Red Alert” from Martinsville. The team took first place in the Indiana challenge, sponsored by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. The team created an app that will assist in directing those affected by emergencies or natural disasters to the governmental agencies and non-profits to receive assistance. Their application guides users through a checklist of potential services that can be administered at specific locations, and also streamlines the process for providers by storing contact information in a database for quick reference.

“Mobile applications have moved beyond merely serving as a way to grow a business and serve your customers, they impact our entire way of life by making it easier for individuals and families to communicate and manage our lives,” said Bill Soards, president of AT&T Indiana. “As our dependence on wireless connectivity continues to grow, it’s impressive to see Hoosiers like John and Isaiah Schevola use their technical skills in innovative ways to help our friends and neighbors.”

In order for John to grow his role at AT&T he elected to pursue a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Through the corporate partnership arrangement between WGU and AT&T, John was eligible to receive a 5 percent tuition discount. John plans to graduate from WGU Indiana in the fall.

“In the 21st century, there is a growing need for individuals with technology skill sets in Indiana’s workforce,” said WGU Indiana Chancellor Allison Barber. “This is why WGU Indiana offers a flexible educational model so that our students like John can develop their skill sets at their jobs and in the virtual classroom when they’re off the clock.”

WGU Indiana has corporate partnerships with businesses across Indiana, offering tuition discounts for employees seeking to further their education. In addition to AT&T, other partners include Springleaf Financial, Eskenazi Health and Fifth Third Bank.

“WGU offered me the IT programs I desired to increase my upward mobility with AT&T. The HTML/CSS and Javascripting courses were critical to my success,” John Schevola said. “I am so proud of the work my son and I have been able to do.”

The State of Indiana partnered with the Indy Chamber and TechPoint to run the hackathon competition. The challenge was created to engage students and professionals already actively contributing to the Indiana tech space and to seed new ventures.


Father-son team ‘hacks’ way to victory in 2-state contest

Martinsville resident John Schevola is going to Disney World.

No, Schevola did not win the NFL championship, but he did win a championship of sorts in the technology world.

Schevola and his son Isaiah, a junior at Indian Creek High School, won the Indiana Texas Civic Hackathon, taking first the state championship in Indiana, then advancing to the dual state competition, where he won as well. The hackathon is a first of its kind challenge between the two states, where tech developers from Indiana and Texas competed to design the best digital applications to serve citizens.

“It was a complete and total surprise,” Schevola said. “When Isaiah and I submitted our application, I tweeted out that it was a great team effort with my son. The other apps looked really crisp, so I was astonished when we won at the state level, let alone the national level.”

Part of his winnings included $8,000, which Schevola said he’d use to take his family to Disney World, since they had never gone.

“We decided that would be fun, and it’s something we’ve wanted to do,” Schevola said.

Schevola said he heard about the challenge through an email from Western Governors University Indiana, where he’s studying to complete his bachelor’s degree in software development. He decided it would be good experience to enter the competition, and quickly formed a team.

“But everyone bailed on us,” Schevola said. “I thought it would be a good idea to continue and see what happens.”

So he and his son did the work themselves. There were two challenges Schevola could choose from, and Schevola and his son chose to work with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Their challenge was to develop a method to register groups and create a checklist of available services people might need after a disaster, creating a “one-stop shop.”

“It was helping people out in a time of need, and since we both do a lot of volunteer work, we thought it would be more suitable for us,” Schevola said.

Schevola said he worked with local organizations that provide assistance, trying to go above and beyond and get as many people in on the development as possible. Schevola said he had a set of specific instructions of places to go for housing, food, cleaning up property, replacing driver’s licenses or other needs.

“We wanted to streamline the process. Have a personalized checklist on a computer. If you said yes to any of these questions, go here.”

Schevola said the goal was to make it dynamic, so agencies can register easily and it will work on a mobile phone.

There were many details to working on the app, and when the weekend of the deadline arrived, he and his son worked tirelessly to get it finished in time.

“It was tough to get it done in the time constraints we had, but my son was great,” Schevola said. “Although he was new to the field of programming, he worked a lot with the HTML and CSS. That last weekend, I think we went 40 hours with no sleep, from 6 a.m. Saturday to Sunday night, when we submitted the final application.”

Schevola said working with his son was the most rewarding experience.

“I don’t know many 17-year-olds that want to work with their parents,” he said. “I was extremely proud. He did anything I told him to do.”

Schevola received a number of accolades for winning both the state and multistate competitions. He got recognition where he works at AT&T; a year’s worth of free classes on entrepreneurship and how to run a business from TechPoint, which helped sponsor the competition; a year’s subscription to Speakeasy business services; and $8,000.

Schevola said he hopes to continue working for AT&T after he receives his degree, as the company helped pay his way, and he loves working there. He hopes this experience will help him get more into application development, where he wants to be.

“It was great working with my son, great fun, and something for him to put on his college apps,” Schevola said. “I joined it just for the experience, but I got a lot more.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joshua Hall is editor of techpoint.org. He writes about Indiana tech companies, jobs, people & events. @joshua2349