Judging a Fulton Co. Schools App Competition
May 21, 2015
The app competition, sponsored by the Technology Association of Georgia, invited students to create a mobile app in just three weeks that resolved one of four pre-determined problems. I jumped at the opportunity to participate as a judge, because I figured, “Why not? stable|kernel loves the kids!” I felt a community service event that allowed me to lend my software development expertise for a worthwhile cause and pay it forward to the stable|kernel interns of tomorrow would be well worth sacrificing a Saturday. Figuring out how to remove that wasps nest from my mother’s porch, so that she wouldn’t be held “hostage” (she’s never short on histrionics), would have to wait till next weekend. I had more important matters to attend to.
My modest expectations of the event were immediately exceeded once the app competition began. I had merely expected the kids to present app concepts. So you can imagine my surprise when the first kid I was to judge proceeded to setup for his demonstration replete with the latest iPad, iPhone and MacBook Pro! As he was he presenting his thoughtfully designed and beautifully executed time management app, I grew ever more skeptical. I thought to myself, “Did he really build this?” or was he just passing off his parents’ work as his own?
My reservations proved unfounded once he started Xcode and walked me through every single class, method and line of code in his project. He even had CoreData! It took me two months to grasp CoreData and he managed elegantly implement CoreData’s functionality into his app. When he finished his presentation, I had to ask how old he was and in his squeaky, pre-pubescent voice, he replied “10.” I was speechless. He then told me his goal in life was to attend MIT. I laughed to myself, remembering being his age and my life’s ambition to be the first fourth-grader to play centerfield for the Braves or Dodgers. When it was all said and done, I wondered to myself, “Who was that grown man trapped in that child’s body?”
Before I could fully comprehend the uber-talented ten-year-old I had just met, I found myself face-to-face with another exceptional kid. First, he introduced himself, stated that he was a fifth-grader and handed me a professionally bound presentation deck that guided me through his presentation as if he were employed by McKinsey or Deloitte. I was astonished!
What truly impressed me about this particular kid was his maturity. This was not only reflected in the poise with which he delivered his presentation, but his mature design sensibilities. He was very mindful of the overall aesthetic of his app and expressed dismay that the platform he used to develop his application, AppInventor, didn’t allow him to maintain “clean lines and consistent spacing.” He definitely had a natural penchant for, and knew a thing or two about, UX and UI. Fittingly, his app concept was as conscious of the environment as it was the user-experience. It allowed users to take pictures of a wounded animal, find the nearest shelter via Restful services, and email that shelter the picture of the animal along with coordinates. How he managed to integrate Restful services into AppInventor is an engineering feat unto itself. After his presentation, my head was spinning. Where were these prodigies coming from?
The Female Developers
As exceptional as the first two kids were, they paled in comparison to the duo of extraordinary fifth-grade girls I had the privilege of judging. They delivered an absolutely flawless presentation that was comparable to the pitches delivered at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield. They had the entire room captivated and their magnetism not only attracted every pair of eyes in the room but the cameras of the local news station. Their amazing, polished style was far surpassed by their substance. They pushed their development platform, AppInventor, to its absolute limit and developed an app concept to help students with time management. Their concept allowed users to accumulate free-time to use towards playing arcade-style games within the app, truly setting it apart from the others.
The young ladies essentially had three apps in one. One of the games actually implemented the accelerometer and it was bug-free! When they made it a point to emphasize that all the images in their app were free license, one could literally feel the entire audience ask themselves “How do fifth-graders know about copyright law?” When it was time for me to score the young ladies I had no choice but to throw out the rubric because it was insufficient to quantify their efforts. They were effervescent and brilliant. Simply put, they were inspiring.
My Saturday at the FCSS App-a-thon was well spent and the future of technology looks very bright.