These UW Boot Camp Students Built an App to Give Back—and Gained a Community in the Process
When their University of Washington Coding Boot Camp instructors challenged them to develop an app, Jia Fang, Hy Huynh, Kevin Hyde, Pushpinder Kaur Brar, and Scott McMains saw an opportunity. They didn’t want to create something that merely showed off their skills. They also wanted to make a difference in their community.
Today, their Neighbor Corps app empowers local volunteers to join forces on the projects that matter most in their neighborhoods. The team hopes the app will eventually enable people around the country—and even the world—to create real change in society.
Bad weather. Good inspiration.
The boot camp students were tasked with creating a web development project from scratch. As they were brainstorming ideas for their app, a snowstorm hit the Seattle metro area. Around them, the community was reeling as neighbors struggled to keep their driveways and sidewalks clear.
When Kevin went to borrow a shovel from a neighbor, he got an idea. What if there was a service that empowered people to share tools and resources and work together to make their neighborhoods cleaner, safer, and more enjoyable places to live?
The other members of the team had experienced similar acts of kindness during the “snowpocalypse.” They agreed to put their new tech skills to use creating a tool that would make it easier for people to lend a hand—and, more importantly, make a difference—in their communities.
Neighbor Corps was born. The group’s app empowers people to use their device’s camera to capture local opportunities for improvement. Volunteers can then use Neighbor Corps to share the problem area’s GPS coordinates and collaborate on a solution.
Working on Neighbor Corps didn’t just give the group an opportunity to flex their new tech muscles and make an impact in their community. It also gave them experience working on a professional team to develop a real-world solution, a great asset for their post-graduation job hunt.
“For me, it was really good that we worked in a group of five because it gave me an impression of how it works in an actual organization,” said Pushpinder. “I loved a lot how we learned to work with others. I would really encourage teams to work together like this.”
A lofty goal
The team had set a high bar for themselves. It was everyone’s first experience using React Native to build an iOS app. They had learned React in class, but to create a mobile-first design, they had to immerse themselves in the new language.
Again, they called on the team-building skills they’d developed in the boot camp. They held frequent standup meetings to share what everyone was working on and push the ball forward.
The five-member team divvied up the work based on their current skills and the areas where they wanted to grow.
“For some of us, it was ‘this is what I’m good at this is what I’m confident in,’” said Kevin. “For others, it was, ‘this is me trying to challenge myself and learn.’”
Preparing for the big reveal
As Demo Day loomed, the group further strengthened their project management skills, using paradigms like Agile to stay organized. They utilized programs, tools, and languages like Node.js, MongoDB, and Cloudinary—just to name a few—to enable the app to store data and connect users.
Figuring out the logic behind email validation was an exciting challenge. And testing through Expo revealed a number of errors that required extensive debugging.
“I had a lot to learn, a lot to build, and a lot to debug,” said Jia. “It was awesome learning all that new technology.”
In the end, the hard work was worth it. On Demo Day, they received nothing but positive feedback and suggestions on how to make the tool even more powerful. It was a wild, crazy, and exhausting night, but the team walked away with a list of ideas on how to make Neighbor Corps the ultimate community empowerment app.
Looking ahead, they want to develop ways to monetize the app and give users merit scores based on their contributions. The group also wants to create a platform on Neighbor Corps where organizations like the Seattle Aquarium and Woodlands Park Zoo can recruit volunteers without going through the tedium and cost of traditional recruiting and vetting.
Even as they’re brainstorming future improvements, the group says the experience of building such a powerful tool in a short time has given them the portfolio, and the confidence, they need to impress potential employers.
“Something very important is that we all could showcase that we are lifelong learners, and we’re not afraid to try something new,” said Hy.
They’ve also significantly grown their network throughout the intensive program. Their instructors, TAs, even the professionals they met at Demo Day are all now people they can turn to for advice and referrals.
“You’re building connections. You can’t put a price on that,” said Scott.