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Wednesday, 04 December 2013 14:21

Student profiles

Written by 

Michael Bruce 

2nd year assoc.

Hometown: Waynesville

Major: Web Technologies 

App: Class Schedule Organizer

As soon as he learned how to build a mobile application, Michael Bruce put his knowledge to work for his fellow-students.

He started developing an app to enable college students to organize their class schedules based on their major — a kind of digital academic adviser.

“It’s a way to put it in their hands,” he said.

Bruce, who is pursuing his associate’s degree in web technologies at Southwestern Community College, is part of a group of students and faculty from SCC and Western Carolina University who will give presentations and talks at the Carolina Coding Initiative from Dec. 9-11. Part of a series by the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, the seminars are meant to spread interest in computer programming.

Bruce hopes to share the difficulties he faced while developing his first mobile app, an inventory of photographs and descriptions of the classic cars and motorcycles at the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley. He spent more than 200 hours over about six months developing the app. 

“It’s a huge time commitment,” Bruce said. Among the technical challenges, he had to synchronize the images to different versions of the iPhone, whether by readjusting their resolution or size. 

Along with two others who helped develop the app, Bruce hopes to release it to Apple for approval. If it appears in the tech company’s app store, he is guaranteed a share of revenue from paid downloads.

In many ways, mobile developers are artists. They give shape to ideas by writing software code, usually involving more technical expertise than designing websites, said Bruce. He has a few web site clients in Waynesville, where he lives, and he has helped to build the site of the Sylva Police Department as part of a class project.

The craft can prove lucrative. Mobile apps generated nearly $10 billion in revenue in 2011, according to an October 2012 study by a wireless industry trade group. It said more than 500,000 jobs have emerged since Android Market and Apple iTunes, the two major app stores, opened in 2008.

Still, the chances of turning what many consider a side job into a livelihood are small. Given the stiff competition in a mobile app market flooded with developers, Bruce said, “The odds are stacked against you.” Few developers can hope for an app like Angry Birds, among the top-selling paid mobile apps for the iPhone in the United States and Europe.

Nonetheless, the app market is versatile, Bruce said, as it shifts away from investments in new concepts toward innovations of existing software programs.

Bruce, 23, plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Western. He is committed to finding work in the filed he describes as an “intrinsic part of my life.”

— By Jake Flannick, SMN Correspondent

 

Hayden Thomas

Senior

Hometown: Burnsville

Major: Computer Science

App: Vehicle-Tracking (Public Transportation)

For Hayden Thomas, it’s all about practicality.

“I think my favorite part of the mobile apps course is that the information I’m learning all feels practical,” he said. “When I’m working on an assignment or studying an example, I know I’ll able to use the things I’m learning some other time.”

Thomas and his partner are currently working on a vehicle-tracking app, which takes Google Maps and applies it to the current location of public transportation. The app allows users to see and figure out how far a specific mode of public transportation may be from their stop. At Western Carolina University, the app would let students know just how far away their commuter bus is, giving them ways to better plan ahead.

“It will also be able to display the vehicle’s routes, stops and current speed,” Thomas explained. “The app is part of a larger project that will also include a website that users without smart phones can access, as well as tools that will help the people who run the buses to collect information about how people use their services.”

When developing an app idea, Thomas said, one of the biggest obstacles is determining if the idea warrants an app. Some ideas could be just applied to a website, while others could go straight to a smart phone.

“Some of the challenges with implementing the idea are anticipating how people will use the app and making sure that the app is easy to understand and use,” he said. “You can’t always predict how people will use your app, and after spending so much time working on it, you have ideas of how it should work.”

Asked if there is any downside to the increasing popularity of apps, Thomas is optimistic that the end justifies the means. He believes  each app can provide helpful resources.

“I think the only real downside to smart phone apps is that sometimes people end up focusing more on their phones than the world around them, but that’s a problem with a lot of modern technologies,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a major problem, though, and I think the usefulness of smart phones really outweighs the downsides.”

With graduation on the horizon, Thomas has enjoyed his time in the phone app course at WCU. Along with providing him with the tools he needs to enter the technological workforce, it also has opened many doors of creativity and analytical thought.

“I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into a mobile apps course,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about working with Android and how to utilize its features, as well as how to make apps easy to understand and use, so that’s something that came as a pleasant surprise.”

— By Garret K. Woodward, Staff Writer

 

Blake Bowen

Senior 

Hometown: Asheville

Major: Computer Information Systems

App: Cherokee Language Learning

A self-proclaimed technology geek, Blake Bowen has been fascinated with smart phones since their inception.

“I always have to have the latest thing in technology, and right now that’s smart phones,” he said. “A smart phone is only as good as the apps that run on it, so I’m always looking for new and exciting apps.”

Bowen has found his niche in the phone apps course at Western Carolina University. He likes the format of the curriculum and how the academic side blurs the lines with the creative element of the process. And with each new phase of smart phone, comes an array of innovative and useful phone applications, or apps, like GPS, restaurant finders or breaking news, which can use the hardware to its fullest capacity.

“The course is based on real world projects with real clients. Dr. Clapper runs the course like a real development studio would, assigning students to a position that best suits their talents,” Bowen said. “There’s no grading rubric that students must follow. This allows students to explore and find solutions that would not be possible if the class was run like a typical college course. Our projects don’t have to include ‘X,’ ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ because ‘X,’ ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ isn’t the best solution.”

For his project, Bowen developed the “Talk To Me: A Cherokee Language-Learning App.” The app takes the Cherokee language and makes it into a fun, easy and interactive game design. Users connect symbols and sounds by listening to audio in four different games modes. They then use the app to process through different levels of the game. Eventually they retain the information on a subconscious level. Bowen developed the app as a collaboration between the Cherokee Studies, Computer Information Systems and Graphic Design departments at WCU.

“I think apps, particularly games, are the ultimate expression of creativity,” Bowen said. “So many of your senses are involved when using apps, and it takes a set of talented developers to be able to package everything into something of value that people will enjoy.”

Bowen will graduate at the end of this semester. He plans to continue work on the Cherokee app, and hopefully pursue other ideas he has ready to spring to life. 

“I started my career at WCU as a Computer Science major, which involved writing a bunch of algorithms that I personally hated doing. However, once Dr. Clapper showed me the types of apps his students were working on, I was immediately sold on picking up programming again,” he said. “It turns out I’m really good at programming, and I definitely found a niche that excites me.”

— By Garret K. Woodward, Staff Writer

 

Diedre Massingale

Graduate

Hometown: Balsam Grove 

Major: Web Technologies

App: Balsam Grove Cookbook

Diedre Massingale wanted to share the recipes of the Transylvania County hamlet where she lives with her family. So she turned to her technical expertise, developing a mobile application containing dozens of pages of ingredients, some of them family staples passed down from generation to generation.

It was an idea that took shape over many early mornings and evenings on her way to work or after family dinners. At 34, she has two kids, aged 11 and 14.

“If you’ve got it in your mind, you can do anything with it,” she said. Massingale earned a certificate in mobile app programming from Southwestern Community College in the spring. “Anybody can do anything” through computer programming, she said.

That is one of the messages she is seeking to share at a series of seminars, called the “Carolina Coding Initiative,” from Dec. 9-11. Students and faculty from Southwestern and Western Carolina University will give presentations and talks about computer programming as a way to spread interest in what has emerged as a major industry.

Massingale hopes to share the process of developing her cookbook app, which she finished a couple of weeks ago. At around the same time she finished another app, for a spa in Brevard, which allows users to view prices and arrange appointments.

She hopes her digital cookbook, which consists of instructions for two dozen recipes that are part of an existing community cookbook in Balsam Grove, will  draw recognition not only around the region, but across the country and beyond.

“There’s a lot of people who want small community,” said Massingale, who plans to offer it as a free download in the mobile app market in the near future. She expects to spend the next year developing a paid version, containing more than 300 total recipes in the cookbook, for the Android Market store. 

Massingale began studying computer programming in the mid-2000s. Since then, she has earned two online associate’s degrees — computer information technology and web technologies — also from Southwestern.

“It took me a while,” she said, balancing her main job as a teacher’s assistant at Davidson River School in Brevard. She helps maintain the school’s Chrome Books, donated through a grant from Google.

Massingale, who grew up in the Little Canada community in Jackson County, has faced some challenges  earning her degrees. After ruling out the possibility of making the one-hour drive to the closest Southwestern campus in Jackson, she sought grants to study online. She plans eventually to pursue a bachelor’s degree in teaching, for computer programming.

Perhaps her strongest motivation comes from her role as a mother.

“I wanted to do something for my family,” said Massingale.

For more information about the seminars, visit www.nccat.org.

— By Jake Flannick, SMN Correspondent

 

Todd Michael

Senior

Hometown: Burlington

Major: Computer Information Systems

App: Orientation (WCU campus tours)

Todd Michael knew from an early age that he wanted to pursue a career in phone apps.

“My interest in developing apps started when I was in high school and I got my first cell phone,” he said. “I had been learning very basic coding techniques and thought it’d be cool to develop apps as a career. Once I heard Dr. Clapper was going to be teaching a course in mobile web apps, I immediately wanted to sign up.”

Teaming up with the Western North Carolina Orientation Department, Michael and his partners are currently developing a mobile app that would give tours to freshmen and incoming transfer students. The app provides the user with a map and marker to pinpoint where they are and where they need to go using Google Maps.

“It’s how they can get from point A to point B on our campus,” Michael said. “This way, the users will not be confused as to where they are on campus. It will be completed and pushed out at the end of this semester.”

In bringing the idea to light, Thomas takes great pride in working patiently in a team to reach the completion of an idea. He believes he has gained teamwork skills that will make the transition from student to employee that much easier.

“I enjoy the fact that we are working in a team in order to achieve a goal,” he said. “Outside of school, new employees are going to be faced with challenges, such as working with people you’re unfamiliar with. In this capstone course, we must work with clients and interact with one another in order to develop our apps and their features.”

Looking into the future, Thomas sees the potential of new computers that don’t require a hard drive, where software is directly downloaded over the Internet.

“I believe there will come a time where mobile devices will reach a stage similar to this, where all the internal mobile software is loaded from a source outside the device,” he said. 

Thomas points to the personal and professional skills he has acquired through the phone app course as key to his success in future career pursuits. It’s about developing technology, but not losing sight of the original component: humanity.

“One of the most difficult challenges with developing a feature or idea for an app is making sure the client or user likes the new features of the idea,” he said. “As a developer, we may have great ideas, but ultimately it is the user who decides if those ideas are worth adding or not.”

— By Garret K. Woodward, Staff Writer

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