As the COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate in early March 2020, Scotty Shaw was glad he recently moved home from Iceland to Waco, Texas. He initially relocated to expand his tech education nonprofit Tech Tree Root internationally. But, with the country virtually shutting down, he was grateful he could be there to help his parents during this period of isolation.

The economic impact of the stay-at-home orders brought Shaw’s international expansion to an abrupt halt. He needed to find a way to keep busy. He wanted to help fight the virus and decided the best way was to redeploy the hackathon efforts he co-founded at Duke University, HackDuke: Code for Good, and see if he and other developers could come up with technology that could make a difference. HackCOVID was then born.

In addition to helping find solutions for the pandemic, he was motivated to support the millions of college seniors about to face a daunting job market. He understood their situation; he had entered the workforce in 2009 and faced a devastating recession. So, he set out to recruit students and recent graduates interested in programming and app development.

Getting Involved in the Fight Against COVID-19

Shaw was able to find approximately 750 people, primarily through social media, and encouraged them to participate. Over the next four weekends, they developed 105 projects.

“Getting people involved in the hackathons helped me and the participants get our minds off the misery of the situation and made us feel hopeful,” Shaw says. “It gave us a sense of purpose.”

According to Shaw, one of the most successful HackCOVID products was a contact tracing app called ContainIt, which uses ultrasound and satellite positioning to track down and notify people who spent time with individuals who tested positive for the virus. ContainIt was downloaded 20,000 times on launch day alone and, since then, has been acquired by NOVID, an organization with a similar mission.

Pleased with the results from the hackathons, Shaw believed more could be done. The European Commission invited him to help lead EUvsVirus, a similar hackathon concept reaching a broader global audience. Their goal was similar to HackCOVID: to hold a hackathon, on April 25, to develop useful tools that could stem the spread and even, possibly, develop a cure for the virus.

The event attracted 30,000 developers from 40 countries who developed 2,164 solutions. One-hundred-and-twenty winners were selected and then matched with partners who could fund their ideas’ development and commercialization.

Shaw’s volunteer work paid off. In May, he was offered a full-time job as chief technology officer for EUvsVirus, tasked with recruiting developers to build on the ideas generated during the hackathon. EUvsVirus has since partnered with the European Innovation Council to connect developers with organizations that can help bring the products to market.

Becoming a Philanthropist and Entrepreneur

Asked how he developed his entrepreneurial and philanthropic mindset, Shaw points to his high school years.

“My family suddenly moved from Northwest Arkansas to Waco a couple of days before I started eighth grade,” he says. “Since losing my childhood home was beyond my control, I was determined to take charge of my life and get into the college of my choice. I created a community basketball league to get inner-city kids involved in something fun and productive. That experience sparked my desire to give back.”

Shaw believes it was his drive and passion for community service that enabled him to be accepted by Duke University, a top Division 1 basketball school and highly competitive academic institution.

“My love of basketball motivated me to take a long shot and apply to Duke,” Shaw says. “I was amazed but so excited when I got in. I really think my community service helped me stand out.”

At Duke, Shaw chose a double major in history and pre-med and was active in extracurricular basketball. He graduated in 2009 but struggled to find satisfying work since there was a recession in full bloom. For a few years, he worked in the printing industry, alongside his father, but was eager to pursue a tech career. He drove to Silicon Valley in search of a computer science job. The job market was still tumultuous; many tech companies had hiring freezes. He settled for a personal banker role at Bank of America in Mountain View.

Feeling directionless, in 2014, he returned to Duke to complete a computer science certificate through its continuing education program and, at the same time, help start HackDuke.

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Enrolling in CORe to Learn the Fundamentals of Business

After completing his computer science certification while simultaneously launching the first HackDuke hackathon, Shaw decided to enroll in Harvard Business School Online CORe—a three-course program comprised of Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting.

“Even though the timing wasn’t great, I knew I had to get into CORe, and that's why I've worked so hard to excel at HBS Online courses rather than taking any other online programs that simply offer easy grades,” Shaw says. “None of the others have ever felt worth my time or attention.”

For him, Business Analytics was the most difficult of the three courses, but his friend, Maggie Sin, whom he met through the program, struggled with Financial Accounting, so they helped each other out.

Shaw managed to complete a successful inaugural hackathon with 1,000 participants and completed CORe with high honors.

“For an online program, I was shocked by the camaraderie among the students,” Shaw says. “I was so busy and overwhelmed with HackDuke and CORe that I never would have completed CORe, especially with high honors, without the help of my peers.”

The peer support experience and friends he made through the program inspired Shaw to get involved in the HBS Online Community, designed to help participants connect and network with their HBS Online peers. He’s attended HBS Online’s Connext conference three times and is now a Community Chapter Organizer for the Houston, Texas Chapter. He’s also taken three other HBS Online courses: Leading with Finance, Disruptive Strategy, and Management Essentials. He says each course has given him additional direction in life.

Despite his limited budget, Shaw notes that CORe helped equip him with an essential foundation in business. He has since prioritized investing in himself by taking more courses.

“Disruptive Strategy inspired me to return to Texas to launch my first business, creating hackathons at major colleges throughout the southern U.S. and then expanding internationally,” Shaw says. “When the pandemic hit, I applied principles from Disruptive Strategy to preempt all other hackathons by moving online first, which led to my opportunity at EUvsVirus.”

Considering an MBA and Continuing to Give Back

Shaw believes that, someday, he will pursue an MBA from an elite school, but he’s not done with EUvsVirus, his computer science career, or helping others.

“I would like to go back to Silicon Valley since that’s where the forefront of innovation is, but I would like to continue combining it with other areas of life, such as athletics, entertainment, music, or movies, since I've always believed in being well-rounded,” Shaw says.

Since leaving HackDuke in 2016, he has launched two nonprofits to help students and recent graduates navigate their job search. Most recently, he’s founded RALLYtoUS to create connections and opportunities for those out of work. The organization matches college graduates and high school students with internship opportunities and mentors, as well as offers workshops to help with personal and academic development.

“I grew up without a lot,” Shaw says. “Sure, I had Nikes, like all the other kids, but when they wore out, I duct-taped them together because we couldn’t afford a new pair. If I can help students who are graduating in this crazy world get into their dream schools, like I was able to, and find financial security through successful careers, my growth through HBS Online will be more than worth the costs.”

If you, too, are interested in investing in yourself and advancing your career, explore the variety of business courses offered by HBS Online.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.