Student app development company continues to grow
Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tom Smallwood demonstrates how to use the iDress for Weather app on Monday at the University Marriott. The application helps people with cognitive disabilities decide what they should wear based on the weather.
There is only one iPhone app development company in Tucson, and it belongs to two UA students.
Tom Smallwood and Cody Jorgensen, computer science seniors who met in a software development club, founded Objective Coders LLC in 2010. They’ve been offered a $30,000 contract for an app, received job interview requests from Facebook and designed an application that reached No. 56 in the Mac App Store. They develop apps for both Apple and Android devices. Besides keeping up with classes and running the company, the two also have other jobs.
“Time is everything,” Smallwood said. “Finding the time to work on the apps is harder than making them. Thank God we’re graduating in December.”
They’ll graduate at the end of the semester, but Jorgensen said they hope their connection to the UA stays strong.
They partnered last year with Phyllis Brodsky, program coordinator for the UA’s Project FOCUS, an effort to support academic success and access to campus life for post-secondary students with intellectual disabilities, and developed her iDress for Weather app. Brodsky’s app helps people with cognitive disabilities decide what they should wear based on the weather. After seeing an animation of the weather, users slide the screen and a closet pops up with a recommended outfit.
Brodsky, who has worked in the special education field for more than 25 years, said she was apprehensive about having students develop her app.
“If I can utilize resources within the university and give students a chance to do anything, I always will,” Brodsky said. “But reality is it’s kind of a business.”
She said their attention to detail and commitment to finish the project gave her the confidence to work with them. Brodsky said the app has been an enormous success, mainly because of the people with disabilities that benefit from it. She’s currently working with Objective Coders on another app.
Additionally, the Arizona State Museum hired Smallwood and Jorgensen to develop an educational comic on diabetes for children on reservations with the disease. Jorgensen said many people on the reservation have iPads and iPhones, making this an effective way to reach them. The museum is incorporating the app into one of its projects. Smallwood said they’re talking with two different UA departments about developing their apps.
Smallwood and Jorgensen help Patrick Homer, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, teach a development class for Apple’s mobile operating system.
Just as impressive as starting a successful company is the amount of work they put into it, Homer said. They didn’t receive help from professors or a class and there were very few books on app development when they started.
They had to learn everything out of a beginning iPhone development book on their own time, Smallwood said.
“The only help we got was asking other developers on forums,” he added. “At the time, no one at the UA was familiar with making apps.”
Now they have enough money to start hiring other students. They plan on hiring two to three part-time student employees by January, Smallwood said.
“CS (computer science) students intern at a big company and there’s no way to make an impact,” Jorgensen said. “You might go to Microsoft and the only thing you do is work on the ‘Help’ menu. That’s your full-time job. Nobody knows you exist when you’re an employee at Microsoft or Facebook.”
Smallwood also said students can see the results of their work. “Whereas if they interned at Apple, it would be ‘I wrote some code, but I can’t tell you what I did exactly.’ You might build something and never get to see it.”
As they expand, Objective Coders would like to hire more students, fund a software development club and offer weekend workshops on app development. Saumya Debray, interim department head of computer science, said as technology and computers become more integrated into society, Smallwood and Jorgensen will continue to find opportunities to succeed.
“This is where we got started and we give a lot of credit back to the UA,” Smallwood said. “We’d like to continue to develop applications for other departments and the university as a whole. And we hope the CS department takes notice that mobile applications are a great area to get into. Students should be excited about it. There’s a lot of fun, money and opportunities in app development.”