Young USC developers win app challenge

BitDepth#935 for May 06

The winning USC team in the university’s computer lab; from left, Kyrone Smith, Christopher Adolph, Akel Nickles and Chika Ibneme. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.
The winning USC team in the university’s computer lab; from left, Kyrone Smith, Christopher Adolph, Akel Nickles and Chika Ibneme. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The four young men huddle in the small room nervously. It’s startling how young they all seem in the tiny meeting room on the campus of the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC).

They form an awkward row in front of me, grouping shoulder to shoulder to face questions from the press.

It’s at that point that I realise they aren’t lifelong buddies, but it’s hard to imagine, even in the face of all that self-conscious shuffling, that they hadn’t worked together as a team until a couple of weeks before Microsoft’s Tech Day & App Development Challenge barely a month before.

Kyrone Smith and Chika Ibneme attended the briefing that Microsoft held on the campus for potential participants and Smith began thinking right afterward of a good team for the event.

Ibneme was an almost immediate first choice. The two had done Introduction to Programming and then the CompSci 1 and 2 classes together.

They both agreed on Akel Nickles, an older student who had known them both from his two years as a computer studies teaching assistant.

Christopher Adolph found out while browsing his Facebook stream and saw a request from Smith for anyone at the school who was interested. He responded immediately.

Adolph and Nickles came in cold to Project Siena, the new technology that Microsoft was introducing.

Siena is a Windows 8 application that allows both programmers and non-programmers to create apps that harness the power of corporate data and content, as well as web services.

For the App Development Challenge, teams from four competing universities (UTT, UWI, SBCS were the others) were challenged to build an app in Windows in two hours and then do the same in Android.

The competing teams were assigned a gymnasium management app and in Nickles’words, the software was “super easy to use and every effective.”

“You felt like you had done something real, that you had put some work into it.”

The challenge wasn’t just between the schools; it was also an effort by Microsoft to demonstrate the ease of use of their new software.

As Frances Correia, Microsoft’s Country Manager explained, the event was designed to compare “the speed and ease of development on the Microsoft Platform against that of Android for first time mobile application developers.”

Microsoft’s three-hour introductory session for Project Siena was matched by another three-hour session offered by an external Android developer.

The winner was judged on the development they were able to do in two hours on each platform.

The USC team did not finish their Android project, but were able to get further along with it than most other teams did using Eclipse, the development environment.

Adolph and Smith did most of the Android work and managed to build three screens but couldn’t finish the programming links for them.

As Smith recalls, “when we put the last semicolon in it generated 29 errors.”

The USC team walked away with four Lumia phones and a trophy and a lasting sense of confidence in their abilities.

“Our primary focus going in was experience,” said Smith, “we were surprised when we won.”

“I knew we won when we presented,” said Nickles.

“Our presentation was strong, and we had completed the work. The feeling was just bliss.”

The team has been asked by Microsoft to finish their software project and get it ready for the Windows Store.

Ibneme and Nickles are working on Project Aki; a chat system modeled on Skype for use by USC students on their internal network.

“We’ve decided to keep the group together and to work on stuff,” Smith said, “and we’re doing it while everyone has a terrible schedule.”