The People Behind the Code: An Interview with Jesse Peplinski

Hack Upstate
6 min readAug 13, 2015


“I can honestly say Hack Upstate has changed my life.”

Jesse Peplinski is a Liverpool, NY native and a front-end web developer intern at Kishmish, a company that provides IT, data, voice and digital marketing solutions. Jesse is new to the Hack Upstate scene, attending his first event in April of 2015, but he seems to have caught the bug.

How did you learn to code?

I currently have an A.S. in Computer Science at Onondaga Community College, but I’d say a good 80% of my learning was self taught. I only
had one real programming class in my high school, and I loved it. From that moment on, I knew that it was something I would want to pursue in college.

What languages do you know/prefer?

Onondaga Community College has provided me with a great background in Java, C++, and SQL. I work with HTML, CSS, and PHP everyday at Kishmish. I know a little bit of Javascript, and I’m slowly getting into AngularJS and node.js — and so far I really like what I am learning. I think that they will soon become my favorite.

How did you first become aware of Hack Upstate?

I found out about Hack Upstate through the head of my department at OCC, Professor Timothy Stedman. I remember when I went into talk to him about it I had no idea what to expect — and ended up reaching out to Doug. When I heard about the opportunity I signed up for it right away and told as many people as I could to join me.

Have you taken home any awards or prizes?

I have not taken home any prizes, but I’d love to snag an Oculus Rift this year.

Is there a project you worked on that you were particularly proud of?

Since my very first Hackathon was in April, I’m really proud of the menu application that our team was able to create. Even though we hit some road bumps along the way, only got a portion of our project done, and our demo stopped working literally 5 minutes before we went on, I had a blast and met some awesome people. The amount that I learned in 24 hours was truly incredible to me.

What is your favorite Hack Upstate story/moment?

I remember it was about 4:00 or 5:00 AM; Thomas Hart walked in and was pretty surprised that we were still up working. I didn’t even realize how late it was and figured that everyone else would still be up coding as well, but I took a break and realized that nearly everyone was asleep. The one hour of sleep was still completely worth it. I think I’m going for an all-nighter this year.

Is there a project that you saw that sticks out in your mind as creative or memorable?

For me, one of the most memorable projects was New Tab, New Tunes. It
was Google Chrome extension that would display 3 albums every time you
opened a new tab. When you click on it, it directs to you Amazon to buy that album on vinyl. I actually still use the extension!

What do you think makes a good hackathon project?

I think that to have a successful hackathon project everyone has to be held accountable for the work they are to accomplish through clear and
defined goal setting.
We had awesome communication going on with Slack
in April (even after the event), but we simply ran out of time because the workload was not divided up effectively. We used Trello last year, but this year I’m hoping to use something else to keep track and organize exactly what our team needs to succeed.

Setting a realistic goal and sticking to it is pretty important as well. With our menu application, we had the idea that we would have our 3 stages of our project completely finished by the end. We only ended up getting 1 stage done, so I think that taking a step back and focusing on what is really important helps to build a simpler — but often times more effective and functional project.

What are your tips for demo-ing your build?

When the timer is running down, it can get pretty stressful and for people that work great under pressure it works for them. But for everyone else, it leads to careless and potentially fatal mistakes that can break a project. Make sure to dedicate enough time to prepare your presentation, and a visual aid never hurts. Make sure to pay attention to your time as well — that 5 minutes goes by pretty quick when you’re up there presenting.

Where can people find you to connect? (there’s good stuff on the way eventually, I promise.)

Has Hack Upstate benefited you in any way?

I can honestly say that Hack Upstate has changed my life. I collaborated with some incredible people, met a ton of awesome folks, and above all else I learned so much. I had no idea that angularjs and nodejs even existed before I attended Hack Upstate. As soon as I got home I had a drive to learn all about new technology that I would not have without events like this.

The goal of Hack Upstate is to connect Upstate NY developers. Do you think they are executing well on that goal? What would you improve?

I think that Hack Upstate has done a great job on connecting people in the NY area. Even though my first hackathon was in April I didn’t feel like an outsider. I could tell that there was a strong support system in place and I felt right at home. I can further say this through my experience at Open Hack where I saw many familiar faces from Hack Upstate. It’s like a family. I’m pretty upset that I have to leave so many great people as I am going to Potsdam to pursue my B.S., but I’ll be back for Hack Upstate for sure and hope to find myself back in the Syracuse area.

Final Thoughts?

To everyone who is skeptical on attending their first Hackathon — do it. I remember I had my doubts at first too like “Will I know enough?” or “What if my idea isn’t good?” As soon as I got there I realized that I didn’t have anything to worry about and I was surrounded by developers and designers and everyone was willing to help. You are a lot more dangerous than you think, trust me.

If I could give any tips or advice to newcomers, it would be these 3 things:

Sell your idea — Don’t be afraid to share your idea at the event. I was planning on joining a team, but I shared my idea at last second. Before I knew it I had 4 people on my team and was able to get the help I needed for our project.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions — Hack Upstate is a learning experience for everyone. If you don’t know how something works or are unfamiliar with it, then ask. You’re a lot better off asking a question with a 5–10 minute explanation than taking an hour to try figure it out yourself.

Take breaks often and meet new people — I took a break every hour or so, and during that time make sure to eat and mingle with your fellow hackers. Even though there is a prize at the end, it didn’t matter to me. I was just happy I was around other people who shared the same passion as me.

Jesse will be at Hack Upstate on October 3rd & 4th. Will you join in the experience? Sign up here to reserve your spot.