Alum’s volunteer work leads to charitable career services venture
Mizzou Engineering alumnus Kevin Melkowski knew what it took to get a tech career started. After five years in the U.S. Navy, he earned his degree in computer science in 2014, then went to work for YouTube before landing a position as a software engineer at Microsoft.
So when he saw others discussing their struggles to break through in a forum on the popular social media discussion website Reddit, he decided to help. Melkowski set up mock interviews with dozens of users that week, providing feedback and constructive criticism to better equip them for the real thing.
News of his willingness to help spread, and he did what he can to assist as many people as possible while still working full-time at Microsoft. And now, Melkowski is attempting to turn his volunteer service into a 501c3 nonprofit service he calls CS Career Hackers.
“I ended up having probably over 100 people that I interviewed that week,” Melkowski recounted of his initial foray into mock interviews. “Some nights I didn’t sleep. It was cool. I got a couple responses back like ‘I’m at Google now; the interview helped so much.’”
After the early beginnings, Melkowski realized he needed help, recruiting a friend to help and providing the service only on the weekends. As it grew, he realized he was building a sort of online community of people who had the computer science skills but perhaps not the means of perfecting the details of interviewing, resumes, cover letters and other aspects integral to the process.
His natural leadership instincts kicked in, and Melkowski sought to help other people achieve the same dream he himself had achieved by building his skills not only in the classroom, but through undergraduate research with Grant Scott, an assistant research professor with the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at MU. Working under Scott, he had the opportunity to work on projects for the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Columbia Public Schools, among others.
“Even when I was in the military, I took online college courses and brought dozens of people alongside. It’s based on my childhood,” he explained. “Pushing people to be better is my leadership side of things.”
Currently, the community is up to 1,300 members. Melkowski wants to recruit companies to help support the service now that it has grown so rapidly in just a few months. He sees it as a win-win — financial support will help job hunters get access to much needed resources, while companies will have a chance to recruit from a pool of talented applicants.
“If I [eventually] have 10-, 20,000 people who want jobs and are getting real practice and devoting hours a day to helping each other out, then what company wouldn’t look at that and say, ‘We can really take advantage of that,’ and bring recruiters in and hire them?” Melkowski hypothesized.
As CS Career Hackers grows, Melkowski said he wants to incorporate outreach programs to help potential computer scientists get the proper resources and encouragement to get proper training and education to become quality hires down the line. And he also wants to provide greater awareness of outreach programs that larger companies offer that aren’t as well known.
“People trying to go to college but can’t afford it; families don’t have the time; veterans … for them it’s really hard to start over because it’s tough,” he explained. “I want to do outreach programs to all of them and build this platform to connect them with companies and train and get them in the door.”