Kenneth An ’20

Faster Than Light, New York, NY

I had the great opportunity to intern for a tech company called Faster Than Light, a cybersecurity start-up that is currently creating an online static analysis tool. Static analysis is a method of debugging code without actually running it. Therefore, static analysis tools easily spot bugs and any vulnerabilities in the code that can lead to security risks. The CEO of Faster Than Light is Elissa Shevinsky ’01; and I was fascinated by her work, her network, and the start-up life itself. Although adjusting to a start-up mentality was in itself a challenge, I had an incredible time with the small team. As I embraced the start-up culture, I found myself growing every day not just by learning new skills and abilities, but also by understanding where my interests and passions lie.

Faster Than Light started with a mission to help developers ship safer code fast. The problem the company’s team found was that static analysis tools are objectively difficult to set up and use. Thus, developers are shipping code without properly testing for security vulnerabilities and bugs. With the level of technology that we have today, more attention is needed on properly securing code. As seen with the recent Capital One incident, cyber threats are more prominent than they ever were before, and Faster Than Light is aiming to reduce security risks with their easily accessible and fast online static analysis tool. Called “The BugCatcher,” Faster Than Light’s online software is built on top of existing static analysis tools. The key difference is that the BugCatcher is online—therefore making it very easy for individual developers to set up and test their code. Using a process called parallelization, the BugCatcher allows code to be tested extremely fast as well.

Many of BugCatcher’s features include material related to a computer science class I took called Principles 
of Programming Languages, and I thought it would be a good chance to apply some academic knowledge into the industry. Additionally, I saw a lot of potential in BugCatcher not just in functionality, but application. I believe that student developers like myself would benefit a lot from a tool like this, since, as said before, setting up static analysis tools, although good resources, is time consuming and difficult.

Working with Elissa, an expert on cybersecurity and someone who has been involved in tech start-ups and entrepreneurship since she graduated in 2001, was an incredible experience. Elissa has extensive knowledge in starting and growing a business in the tech industry and has spoken at some of the biggest tech conferences in the world, including DEF CON. When I first took her Winter Study class on tech entrepreneurship, she inspired me and a couple of my friends to start our own campus-based company called DeliverEph, which we still plan on pursuing in our senior year. I’ve always wanted to understand the start-up culture as I always envision myself starting one, and I thought that working side-by-side with Elissa would be a tremendous learning experience and, hopefully, a judgment on my capabilities of starting a business myself.

My position in the company didn’t really have a label other than the term “intern” and my responsibilities fell into two categories: technical and entrepreneurial. On the technical side, I was responsible for quality assurance (QA), which is a way to prevent the software from having any problems or defects in every stage of development. I was assigned to test the software and make sure that our goals were being reflected in each level of development. This was everything from analyzing the actual source code to exploring every element of the user interface (UI) to check that there are no errors in a user experience. I was also assigned to research static analysis tools for other languages. Currently, the BugCatcher can support only Python and Java. I searched for Android static analysis tools that are open source, a project in which anyone can contribute to the source code. I found a few that were able to test Android package files (.apk) and sent my results after installing and testing the tools. The last main responsibility was performing user testing, which is a design process evaluating a product with real users. I reached out via social media to various developers that were willing to test the BugCatcher, and as a result received lots of positive and negative feedback that the engineering team could review.

The entrepreneurial side of my internship involved customer discovery and marketing. By following the process of customer discovery, which are assumptions of who the first customers are and what problems we are trying to solve, we focused on communities of individual developers. I reached out to dozens of developer blogs, podcasts, and Meetup hosts to spread news about our software and to set up interviews with Elissa and our CTO Brett Thomas. Many bloggers, podcasters, and conference hosts responded back with their interests in the BugCatcher and we also have a few podcast interviews lined up.

Overall, working with Faster Than Light was an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only did I improve on technical abilities, but I was also able to get a slice of what the start-up culture is like. The result of this internship was my sudden interest in a field that I’ve stumbled into without any prior knowledge—product management (PM). PM combines both the technical and entrepreneurial aspects, as product managers aim to create products that customers would want. Talking with Elissa and other alums through EphLink, I’ve discovered that my internship was in many ways a PM internship. I spent a lot of my free time researching about the role, realizing that PM is something that I can see myself doing after graduation. This internship provided a path for me that I haven’t considered before, and I am excited to pursue it further. I would not be beginning this new journey without the generous support of Mr. Alex Shah ’92 and the dedicated work of the ’68 Center for Career Exploration.