CECH IT student manages international project and iOS-app release

Jared Handra

UC Student Jared Handra

From Farm to Tablet

From becoming an Ohio Certified Angus Producer on the family farm to performing computer-tech support for his grandfather’s business, then his school district, University of Cincinnati (UC) senior Jared Handra built an impressive resume before enrolling at UC’s Clermont College. That work ethic would eventually land him a highly coveted co-op interview with Microsoft and another opportunity to drive creation of an iPhone app.

“I’ve been working ever since I was 12,” the 23-year-old says. “My dad would drag me into work at 7 a.m. on a Saturday when all of my friends were sleeping in or playing Gameboys. I cleaned and stocked shelves, and, because I was the youngest and better at computers than anyone else, did repair.”

News of his abilities spread and his school district’s administrator hired him. “He was really encouraging and mentored me, showing me system diagnostics, hardware and basic networking,” according to Handra. That coincided with his senior year and a career decision. Though wooed by soccer scholarships, Handra’s practical side chose nearby Clermont UC and an affordable two-year degree.

In 2010, he registered for the computer–system-support-and-technician program and worked on the college help desk, which taught him he wanted something broader. As a result, Handra explored options at Northern Kentucky University and the main campus of UC, where accreditation and the strong co-op program “sealed the deal.”

He co-oped with French fragrance-and-flavoring company Mane, Inc. in Lebanon, OH, in system support. “I had itchy feet and asked myself if this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life.” He taught himself coding, declared software as his major and admits “that first semester was tough, though Kevin Ghantous (IT instructor and graduate) helped me through the transition.”

His next co-op with Tata Consultancy Services in Milford provided great pay and experience with a global firm, mocking up a web application with a dashboard that tracked projects. Interns also mentored middle- and high-school engineering students.

As Handra grew more confident in software applications, he began to search for his final co-op and boldly applied to Microsoft. His application and phone interview netted a plane ticket to Seattle and a personal interview. He left quietly during exam week, was whisked from the airport in a black car, subjected to five rounds of interviews before dinner in the Space Needle, a night’s sleep and ride back home.

Handra was disappointed not to get an offer, but yearned for a small company with one-on-one mentoring. He dragged his feet until Jeffrey Shephard, CEO for MedaCheck, contacted him. “He’s an entrepreneur and believes in giving co-ops the chance to make a huge impact.” And it was located downtown Cincinnati, somewhere the farm boy wanted to try.

Handra was tasked with creating automated testing for the customer web platform. MedaCheck offers medication reminders for android tablets and mobile devices. The co-op was handed a list of 200 tests along with program tutoring by one of the software developers that “really helped ramp me up. Without it, I would never be as good as I am now.” Handra eventually programmed testing for tablet software and android phones.

Screenshot from the Meda Check app that Jared Handra created

Screenshot from the Meda Check app that Jared Handra created

At the end of the tenure, his employer approached him about a full-time summer gig creating an iPhone app. Because of the scope of the assignment, Shephard contracted with an overseas software team and named Handra project manager. When it came back in-house, Handra became lead developer, handling the Apple Store review process.

“Interviewing for Microsoft and managing a team in India is not something I ever thought I’d do,” Handra says. He enjoyed the startup culture at MedaCheck, sitting beside the CEO. “I learned a lot technically and professionally and met people in the Cincinnati startup community, a whole striving ecosystem.”

According to Shephard, Medacheck treats everyone the same, not singling out co-ops. “We spend quite a bit of time the first 90 days getting people on board. It’s an important time for individuals to blossom. Jared was interested in our iOS product – I don’t think he expected the opportunity to supervise an international project.”

Shephard, who holds a doctorate in leadership, has cultivated several dozen co-ops and interns in a creative startup environment that develops skills quickly and immerses students in real-world, meaningful work. “No one even comes close to Jared. He is head and shoulders above the rest.”

The CEO has been pleased with his UC co-op students. “We allow them to be creative, take risks and responsibility,” he says. For his role, Handra was recently awarded an Ohio Cooperative Education Association Scholarship.

His advice for those considering IT at UC, including his younger brother: “The three IT tracks are great options, but don’t feel pigeon-holed or afraid to try another one even if it might make you nervous. I never thought I’d be managing an iOS app and writing software that gets released to the public.”