Today, people of all ages can learn to code amazing applications for our beloved iPhones. Veeral Patel can attest to this statement.
Though he is just a high school student, Veeral has shown that he too can play at the same level of the adults in the app industry through his recent release of Owl, a daily facts application I reviewed not too far back. Recently, I had the chance to talk to Veeral about his experience as a student developer, his experiences at this year’s WWDC and what we can expect from him in the near future. Enjoy.
So will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Bergenfield, New Jersey, and I just finished 10th grade at the local high school there. It’s really close to New York City and that’s really cool because there are a lot of tech startups opening up there, and it’s gaining attraction as being like Silicon Valley.
When did you start coding and how did you pick it up?
I just got into programming last summer. I downloaded this app called Codea — it was on the iPad for about $10. It was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent on an app. Codea introduced me to developing for iOS because I hadn’t seen code; I hadn’t programmed before then. Codea was a nice introduction because it was very intuitive. You can touch the screen, pick colors, images and stuff like that. I messed around in there, and I really got into it by looking at the tutorials they have. I made a couple apps there, and I transferred them into Xcode files. They’re called Flood+ and Gravity Drop.
In September, I got into using Xcode more, because there are obviously some limitations to programming on your iPad. It was much different than Codea. I found the best way I learn is by looking at someone else’s code. I always go into Github to look at some other projects. Tutorials are always good, but they’re not as exciting because I didn’t create it from scratch.
What inspired you to develop Owl, your latest app?
You know how a lot of people drink coffee and tea to keep them awake? Well I drink Snapple, and the Snapple glass bottle caps have the facts underneath them. I used to drink them every day. I thought it was really cool learning new things every day, but I was wasting so much money buying Snapple bottles every day, so I just thought that maybe I should create an app to recreate this. That’s what I did with Owl. I went on Reddit all the time, so I got my facts from the Today I Learned subreddit, which is pretty popular.
You mentioned that you never developed in an app completely in Xcode prior to Owl. Were there any challenges in coding Owl as a result of this?
I started working on Owl in the middle of January. Xcode was pretty new to me since it’s so much different than Codea. I had to look up things on where to store all of the facts because I didn’t want all the facts to be on the app — in the app resources — because I could never update them, or I would have to make the users update them every year, and that would be really inconvenient. So I looked up ways on how to do push notifications and all of that kind of stuff. I found this website called Parse. I learned tons of stuff from there.
You recently attended WWDC on a Student Scholarship. Can you tell us a little about your experiences there?
I hadn’t heard about the student scholarship before, but I tweeted out something about Owl, and one of my friends told me to finish up Owl early so I could apply for the student scholarship. I didn’t know what it was, so I looked it up, and saw what people had to do in previous years — I mean, it’s only been going on for, like, a year — and I guess for the 2012 WWDC they had to write about themselves. This year’s was different because part of the application process was to make an app about yourself.
I was surprised I got picked because basically all I did was take the whole template from Owl — the whole design, the tableview, the scrolling. I made it kind of like a timeline: the first thing would be, “Hi, I’m Veeral Patel,” and I would go onto say I made this app on this day. You would scroll and click on stuff; there were some screens where you can swipe through to see screenshots. It was definitely a challenge because Apple only gave us about a week to do it.
At the conference, I thought it was awesome to see all the new stuff getting released like all of the new tech and being there in general, in the environment. Everyone comes together from all around the country. It was cool to meet some of the developers that also like doing what you do. On the first day I lined up at 3AM for the 10AM Keynote, and I got really good seats. I could see myself in the Keynote video so that was pretty awesome.
The rest of the days were really cool because all you did was go to sessions, labs, relax; they had a student lounge for all of the students. I went to a couple sessions with my friends. I really liked the ones on user interfaces. They mentioned the same thing all the time, but it was really interesting to see the thought process that went into iOS 7, like some of the under-the-hood stuff that went into it. There was another one that discussed multi-peer connectivity, so it dealt with connecting to phones around you and the discovery of phones that I thought was really cool. I’ll probably apply for the scholarship again next year. It was definitely an awesome experience.
What is it like being a student app developer?
It’s definitely difficult to balance developing with schoolwork. When I was working on my app for the WWDC application, I would sketch out how I wanted my app to be and icons and stuff in my classes, then I would go home and program for the whole night. Most of the time I just do it on nights where I don’t have much schoolwork. In a school week I’d probably program maybe four out of the seven nights, and three nights I wouldn’t pay attention to it too much and focus more on school. But now that it’s summer, I can focus on it more.
I would definitely advise other students to take up developing. I’d tell them to download Codea, because it’s a good introduction to it and it’s not going to scare you like Xcode kind of did to me. It’s really simple and a really good intro to app development or programming anything in general.
Can we expect seeing anything from you in the near future?
I’m thinking of some ideas right now that I can do over the summer. When I went to WWDC, I met a couple of friends and we’re working on this app called Audibly. You share music with your friends and play music all around you. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about it as it’s still under wraps.