Interview with Jason Ernst, Grand Prize Winner of CODE

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January 09, 2015

Jason Ernst is a member of the Electric Sheep team (along with Carlos Saavedra), that won the Grand Prize and was voted Fan Favourite at CODE 2014. The team built the newRoots app that matches newcomers to Canada with cities to live in, based on their preferences across several domains. We asked Jason a few questions after CODE to learn more about the team and its experience.

Q: What is your interest/experience in developing apps?

Jason: I've always been interested in developing apps. In the past I've participated in a few hackathons and related events. I think I'm attracted to app development because it's easy to quickly solve a need or a problem. In some cases, there is the potential to learn a lot about the platform you are developing for (Android, Blackberry, etc.).

Q: Why did you decide to participate in CODE?

Jason: We decided to participate because we had some momentum from the open data Guelph contest. We felt we worked together well as a team, and the open data idea appealed to us a lot after the last contest. The prize money and exposure to Venture Capitalists was also a big factor in choosing this over other contests that were being held around the same time.

Q: How was the 48-hour experience?

Jason: The 48-hour experience was just about the right amount of time for an app. The 24-hour Guelph contest we were in the week before was too short. The ability to take a quick break and nap in the middle of the night definitely made a huge difference. We didn't stay up 48 hours straight, but pretty close. I think we stopped around 3 or 4 a.m. and were up again by 9 or 10 a.m. working away.

Q: How did you come up with your app idea?

Jason: Carlos was motivated by his parents’ experience coming to Canada. They moved to Toronto, and it ended up not being a good fit for them. I thought similar things about international grad students who were unsure where to go for school. Carlos also remembered a talk at University of Waterloo Stratford that related strong immigration policy with a strong economy. We started looking a bit into the expected growth in immigration and thought the app would be great if we could execute it properly.

Q: What did you think of the presentation at the CODE Grand Finale?

Jason: The presentation was very nerve-racking. We had checked the other teams’ pages and projects ahead of time and were also worried that some of the other teams had some similar ideas to ours, so we knew we had to do a good job. The closer we got to our presentation though, we noticed not many other groups focused on market size and potential earnings, so we were confident that this would set us apart. Getting up in front of the judges was still pretty scary though. Given that they were all well respected and powerful people from a variety of disciplines, it was intimidating. Personally, after Carlos introduced us so smoothly, it gave me more confidence that our presentation was good, and I was able to relax a bit more. Being part of a good team helps a lot.

Q: What will you do with your winnings?

Jason: We have had lots of attention and interest from various government departments, immigration groups, and the local media, and are in talks with some of the start-up organizations in our area. Given the brief market research we carried out, and based on some of ideas we haven't even presented yet, we feel we have lots to work with. The next step will focus on trying to polish the application, and starting to market it to people who may find it useful.

Update:

Jason is now the CTO & co-founder of Redtree Robotics

“Redtree is building the world’s first robot chipset, making it easier, faster & more affordable to build robots, share data from sensors with other robots and make it available online.”

Carlos is now the CEO & co-founder of Imminy

“Imminy is a web platform for immigrants to learn, locate and collaborate with agencies and cities to find job, home and training opportunities. Learn more at the Imminy website.”

Q: Any thoughts about the Open Government Portal that you would like to share?

Jason: The website was generally easy to use. Compared with other open data systems we have worked with, the data was for the most part fairly standardized and easy to search. The exception was probably any of the data which was repeated over a period of years. It was somewhat difficult to find the latest data. Also some of the datasets were very large, so working with these sets was tricky. However, overall it was a good experience. The best thing would be more data! Our app particularly would benefit greatly from even more drilled-down data. We worked only with the 33 or so census metro areas in Canada, but there is potential to work with smaller regions, cities, towns and even neighbourhoods!

Q: Would you participate in CODE the next time around?

Jason: If the timing works out, I'd be happy to participate again—and hopefully generate a totally new idea. There were tons of datasets that we didn't even get a chance to play with. Also at the top 15, there were a ton of ideas we didn't even consider. So there's huge potential for lots more to come out of this at the next event.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of the Government of Canada.

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