Next Level Competition Champs on Their Recent Win, and All Things Coding

DreamTeamDesigns, a team of programmers consisting of Ben HarrisGeoff GeorgeEdward Cheever, and Robert Hardin, took home the championship title at the Next Level Competition (NLC) in July. Their winning project was Fridge2Table, an application that lets users track groceries, with products sorted by category, expiration date, and location (fridge, freezer, or pantry) in the kitchen. 

The NLC is an online pitch event sponsored by Trilogy Education to continue connecting boot camp participants with expertise from industry partners—ultimately catapulting projects and ideas to reality. The competition, which was overseen by a panel of judges from prominent industry players, including Google and Facebook, is an opportunity for boot camp students to present a project to industry professionals. Students are able to flex their coding expertise in real-life situations and demonstrate their knowledge in the creation of a practical, marketable app. 

The Fridge2Table Table team faced stiff competition from other Trilogy boot camp students. Competing projects included everything from innovative personal fitness trackers, revolutionizing the way we understand and utilize basketball analytics, behavioral tracking applications for bettering special education programs in schools, and emergency response applications for combatting homelessness. Each team was able to use various systems to create projects that go far beyond the classroom. 

Check out our conversation with this year’s winners below!

Before we dive into the competition, tell us a bit about how each of you were introduced to coding.

BH: My introduction to coding was almost a shot in the dark. I had spent many years prior in stagnant work, and I really needed to test myself to build a new future.

GG: I first got into coding a few years ago after reading Paul Ford’s magazine piece for Bloomberg Businessweek called “What is Code?” It explained how code worked and why it’s not as impenetrable as it might at first seem. 

EC: Coding has long been an interest of mine, since high school. I immediately began searching for programs that would equip me with valuable skills on an accelerated timeline. The Northwestern Coding Boot Camp was a clear answer to my needs.

RH: As soon as I was old enough to mess around on a computer, that’s where I spent most of my free time. I always wanted to make that a part of my life, and when I found the Trilogy-powered boot camp at Northwestern University I jumped in headfirst.

What was the NLC competition like? 

BH: The competition was fierce. Our peers presented some high-caliber content, and we honestly felt honored to be among them. We were anxious while the judging took place, and when they announced we were the winners, I was nearly speechless. It felt really, really good.

EC: Since we presented first, I was able to fully appreciate the other nominees’ presentations after. Winning the competition was utter elation. I jumped for joy and had to walk around my apartment several times to calm down. It felt incredible to not only have our hard work recognized, but also to beat out what we all felt was an incredible slate of competition in the other nominees.

Can you tell me a little about the process of creating your project, Fridge2Table? 

RH: It was the most collaborative process I have even been a part of. From the beginning, all of our input was taken into consideration as a group before the idea for this particular project was decided on. The judges did a good job maintaining a healthy line of being intrigued enough to ask questions but not showing any bias toward our app even after we were announced as the winners. We were told the margins were quite thin (we definitely had stiff competition), but everyone was quite friendly in congratulating us after the very long session of pitching and judging came to a close.

How did the competition let you show off your boot camp skills?

EC: We fully envision a future for our app that will make it an essential part of any of our user’s food-management. I was able to show off my ability to build and manipulate a NoSQL database, and of course I worked closely with the front-end team to create our finished project, and the whole team helped debug each others’ code, which meant we had to keep up with each others’ work.

GG: The competition is for truly outstanding projects from boot camps across web development, data analytics, and cybersecurity. Our project synthesized everything we’d accumulated about React, Mongo, Node, and Express and used it to build something truly professional. We decided to go one step further and dive into React Native for mobile development. Without the boot camp, we wouldn’t have even known how to get started with React Native and some of the other technologies our app uses.

Do you have any advice for others considering participating in NLC?

BH: It’s an industry pitch! Go light on the tech talk and try to grab their attention. Make them want to buy what you’re selling!

GG: Be prepared. My team met at least twice ahead of the final pitch to discuss how we would present the app, including a meeting the day of the event to go over everything one last time. I came up with potential questions from the judges for the team to practice responding to—and clearly, it worked!

EC: I advise every student to just do it. Push yourself to do better than your best. Most of all, though, I recommend leaning on your team, and be ready for them to lean on you. When we hit a roadblock, we all dove into the problem head-first until it was solved. We stayed in constant communication every step of the way.

RH: During both your submission and live pitch, remember that you are not only presenting your work but selling the judges on the marketability of your app. You want to make people walk away from your pitch feeling excited about the future and what you have accomplished so far!

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