by Rafael Melo

How my App won third place in an International Student Competition

I developed an App that won third place at the IEEE Mobile Applications Development Contest 2017 (IEEEmadC 2017) among 40+ equally great Apps developed by students all around the world. It was an amazing experience that made me open my mind to new ways of seeing things and to my skills as a developer.

Here are three things that I believe made my App be chosen among so many interesting and really good applications from students all over the globe and that I’m sure can make your App do it too.

1. Choose an idea that is useful for your own life and for others around you.

The first phase of the contest was the idea phase. More than 200 groups submitted amazing ideas and I was one of them. But just like most people, I had many ideas that I thought were great. How could I choose one and focus on that?

In my city Salvador Bahia, we have many beautiful beaches and are mainly known as a touristic city of Brazil. But most of the year our beaches are polluted because a majority of our rivers receive sewage waters resulting in the beaches becoming dirty. The bright side is that the beaches are perfectly suitable in summer. But when it rains and mostly during other seasons, they become unsuitable with sewage water.

Some people just ignore this fact and keep going to the beach risking getting many diseases from the high level of E.coli bacteria in the water. Others just avoid the beach and lose out on one of the most amazing things our city provides. We have really beautiful warm beaches, and some people including many foreign tourists just don’t know about it.

Most people don’t know that the government measures the level of E.coli bacteria in the beaches and posts it on the internet weekly.

When I discovered that, the idea just popped up - an App that returned information on the level of E.coli bacteria on each beach to the public. This would provide tourists and general public a way to know of which beaches to visit. I knew that this idea would not only help me but others as well.

When the first phase ended I received an email telling me that my idea was one among the 40+ selected. It was an exciting feeling. But I knew that I was about to compete with more than 40 groups of people from around the world and all I had was an idea.

2. Choose your tools wisely and go with what you already know.

The second phase was development and my idea had to become an App in three months, I didn’t have a group and I had to choose how I would build it.

The first thing I thought was that since it’s a mobile App competition I should maybe build an Android App with Java or an iOS App with Swift. But the problem was, I didn’t know Java or Swift. I only had sparse knowledge from what I studied in some classes of Java and I’ve never really done anything with Swift. I was tempted to learn one of them for the competition but I had a really short time.

So I took the smart decision to use what I already know. I’m a web developer intern and the main language I’ve worked with is JavaScript. So I decided to use a hybrid platform built on Apache Cordova and it worked. In the first two months I had built almost everything from the front-end and some of the back-end just using JavaScript. The fact that I was comfortable with the language helped me in every aspect.

I know that running from something new sounds awful for developers like us. But I believe it’s about knowing the right time to discover something new and the right time to use what you are comfortable with.

A teacher once told me that,

Most people fail at some objective because at the most crutial time they decide to try something new instead of what they already know.

In the end of the competition I was glad that I listened to those words.

3. Your App is for humans not machines - Don’t underestimate design.

My App was almost complete, and I decided to ask my friends what they thought about it. Most of them didn’t like it, and I was less than one month from the competition deadline.

It was, in their words, ‘ugly’ and they couldn’t understand how to use it.

I was frustrated: I built an app that I thought was good, but if people couldn’t understand how to use it and they didn’t like it, it was worth almost nothing…

First Version of the APP

So I made the decision to study a little about design, something I thought my entire life that was unnecessary and superfluous. I used what I learned to improve my App so people would be interested in using it. Since I’ve never had classes in my university about design, the Internet was my best friend and I started my journey on something I had never studied before.

Design is a universe of it’s own. There are so many fields and theories that you can’t possible learn everything in such a short amount of time. So I decided to focus on two things, user experience and color theory. After some study and a lot of trial and error, I’ve finally reached something that people started to compliment.

Final Version

It wasn’t ugly anymore and everyone could understand how to use it.

It blew my mind.

To me that was the part that changed my way of seeing things. Design is something really important and it should be taken seriously. After all, it’s about how users interact with what we create, and users are the most important piece of every system. Without users there is no application. This competition changed forever my idea about design, and it’s something I will carry with me on every project I’m a part of.

At the end of the judging phase I received another email, this time telling me that my App had won the third place, the Computer Society Special Award. I was really happy, not only because I felt like my efforts led me to something great, but because I was one person when I entered the competition and a completely different person when it ended.

These are the three things that I think made my App win third place at the IEEEmadC 2017 competition. What really made the judges like my App only they will know, but I do believe that these three things — choosing the right idea, right tools and App design made a difference — and I wanted to share that with people. This experience changed a lot of things for me, and I hope I was able to share this feeling.

I would like to thank IEEE for the opportunity and for making so many students come together to build great things, to all the judges for the hard part in choosing only three among so many good Apps and to my girlfriend and friends that helped me so much with the design part.

Here is a look at all the winners.