BE Smart Hackers Visit Silicon Valley Corporate Sites

Be Smart

On Day 2 of the BE Smart Hackathon, sponsored by Toyota, all 10 student teams visited the Silicon Valley sites of two of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit corporate sponsors: the AT&T Foundry and LinkedIn.

AT&T Foundry

The AT&T Foundry outdid itself again this year. Separating the students into three groups of roughly 15, each group engaged in an activity with the AT&T Foundry staff.

The first activity required the group of 15 to break into three teams. Each team had to tape strands of spaghetti together out from the edge of a table; the team that constructed the longest strand without its touching the floor would win.

Each team approached the challenge differently. Reflection was also part of the activity, as was learning from what other teams had done. One team’s spaghetti strand reached a length of 7 inches without touching the floor!

Tarren Corbett-Drummond, the Foundry’s senior product marketing innovation manager, said that of other groups that have performed this challenge, kindergartners did better than many adults. She also said that engineers and architects did best.

A provocative second activity, developed by the Foundry’s data scientists, involved machine learning and how constructing machine learning models requires knowing some of the answers already. Reinforcement learning can be used when you don’t the answer.


At LinkedIn the students learned how to optimize their LinkedIn profiles. Emily Gause, a Howard alum who works at LinkedIn, provided great tips, including the following:

  • Don’t just “mass add” to your network. Add people strategically—those you can help professionally or who can help you.
  • LinkedIn isn’t Facebook. Make sure whatever you share on LinkedIn represents you as a professional.
  • Include a photo on your profile.
  • Use an attention-grabbing headline, not just “student at XYZ College.”
  • Write a compelling summary. This is the place where you can sell yourself. Be specific. Don’t be shy.
  • If you have another site where you blog or where you’ve already developed a following, link to that site from your LinkedIn profile (as long as it’s professionally appropriate).
  • Add to your profile volunteer experiences and causes you care about; 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer work to be as important as professional experience, according to LinkedIn.
  • Join LinkedIn groups.

Gause also suggested having a few people review your profile. The career services people I’ve interviewed all said they regularly helped students (and sometimes graduates) develop their LinkedIn profile.

Gause also said that even “locked” profiles aren’t off-limits to recruiters. Using a recruiter tool, recruiters can view private profiles—so be sure to keep yours professional.

For more about the BE Smart Hackathon, visit the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit website.

TechConneXt Hacker Gets Full Ride to LSU

Congratulations are in order. Egbeyong Tanjong, also known as EJ, has been granted a full assistantship—all expenses paid—to earn a Ph.D. in computer science at Louisiana State University. The Southern University senior will begin graduate school this fall.

BE Smart sat down and spoke with Tanjong, who will be graduating from Southern, a historically black university, this semester.

What are you planning to study at LSU?

Data analytics. I am very quantitative—data analytics is where computer science and my skills converge. By becoming an expert in data analytics I will be best able to express myself and my skills.

LSU is a great research university. It’s a good match for me because it’s strong in the data science field.

Is your family in Louisiana?

I am here all by myself. My family is in Cameroon. I moved to the U.S. in January 2013, when I started at Southern. I came to the U.S. to go to college.

Why are you studying for a Ph.D. and not a master’s?

I believe studying for a Ph.D. is the right track, because eventually, in terms of career and money, the sky will be my limit, because a doctoral degree is the ultimate.

One other reason is, I feel that my greatest gift is my mind. I want to stretch my mind to hopefully stretch the bounds of knowledge.

You participated in the BE Smart Hackathon in October. Have you been able to leverage that experience, and if so, in what ways?

I got selected to go to the BE Smart Hackathon by the chair of my department. It was a great experience, because I was given the chance to network with my peers in other schools. I was able to get a true evaluation of my skill set and the areas that needed more development.

The mentors that assisted us during the hackathon were really helpful. They provided tapes and materials that have remained concrete in my mind.

I can never forget the feedback from the judges, which was great, and I take it with me wherever I go.

Most importantly, what really guided my choice was the tour of the AT&T Foundry, where I met data analytic tech experts.

They gave me a brief account of their backgrounds, and what concentrations they had—that helped me in looking for schools.

They told me exactly what their job entailed and the software they need. When I was looking at schools, I thought in terms of the work those data scientists did.

After the BE Smart Hackathon, I was determined to share my experience with other students at my school. Southern is now laying the groundwork for a local hackathon competition.

TechConneXt Summit Students Tour AT&T Foundry, Google


The first full day of the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit started off with a tour of the AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto, and finished with a visit at the Google Visitor’s Center—both just a short drive from the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara, the site of the conference.

Under a blue California sky, 35 students, including 20 student hackers, were taken to the AT&T Foundry;  a center of innovation where employees of the multinational telecommunications corporation devise questions, hatch ideas, and try out compelling solutions to customer problems and difficulties affecting the wider world.

The tour exceeded all expectations. The Foundry “disrupted” the students’ ideas about AT&T. You hear “AT&T” and think typical corporate America—a large steel-and-glass building somewhere where employees wear suits, men wear ties, and everyone speaks in modulated tones. But the Foundry was in a smallish building that was inviting; not corporate. There wasn’t any steel, but there was a cavernous meeting space of concrete walls and ceilings of exposed ductwork. The industrial feel of the space lending itself to works in progress, works in ideation, unfinished projects that call for more experimentation and greater risk than one might try in, say, a very finished, carpeted office space.

After a tour of the working areas, several of the Foundry staff spoke with the Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit students. Jerry Higgs, Ph.D., senior product development engineer at the Foundry, who is African American, supervised the tour and introduced his colleagues.

Two data scientists spoke about their work and advised students interested in pursuing data science, or in incorporating data science into another field, to take courses in statistics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. A former entrepreneur who now handles outreach to small businesses spoke of AT&T’s interest in solving customer problems and in working with small businesses, as well as large businesses, to do so.

A female development engineer started out as a philosophy major, but is now working on ideas that could expand the range from which drones can be controlled, and perhaps allow them to be used in dangerous places: for example, near forest fires. Another female engineer in product development solutions, said that the “greatest thing about math and science is that you get to develop your analytical skills.” Inspiring words indeed; even to this English major.

The tour ended with the group splitting up to work on idea creation and development with engineers from the Foundry. Each group of five developed an idea, and later one group presented to the whole gathering.

Next stop? The Google Visitor’s Center on the campus of Google’s Mountain View headquarters. Several African American Googlers chatted with the students: Lo Toney, a venture investor at Google Ventures; also an engineer who started out as an elementary schoolteacher, and a lawyer who works on Google’s law team, as well as others, including at least two diversity recruiters, made themselves available to chat with the students.

Google in all its quirky glory—brightly hued bicycles, androids, even a small ball pit in the Visitor’s Center—made the visit fun. A stop at the Google store to pick up mementos finished off our morning of tours, inspiration, and exhilaration.

For photos and commentary about this morning’s tours, search the Black Enterprise Instagram account using the hashtag #TECHCNXT.