Into the Source Code: A Look Into Cornell AppDev

Into the Source Code: A Look Into Cornell AppDev

In 2014, Cornell started AppDev as one of the College of Engineering’s newest project teams. Since then, the team has developed numerous apps dedicated to helping Cornell students and community members, ranging from providing dining hall information to TCAT tracking. The team, advised by prof. Walker White, computer science, has currently published six applications — with more on the way this semester.

Product leader Archit Mehta ’25 estimates that about 12,000 undergraduates — about 80 percent of the total Cornell undergraduate population — use at least one of the team’s apps in a given semester. Before joining the team, he was also one of those users who used the CourseGrab app to enroll in high-demand classes during the Add/Drop period.

Researching project teams, Mehta was drawn to AppDev and was accepted to the team during his second semester at Cornell.

“AppDev was the [project team] that really stood out to me just because I really agreed with the mission statement of making an impact in the Cornell community, giving back to students and solving their headaches,” Mehta said.

Mehta previously worked on updating the Eatery app to a new version titled Eatery Blue that would include more information, such as including Collegetown restaurant menus in the app. The updated app is meant to be released soon. Currently, Mehta’s job involves overseeing all of the apps in development and incorporating more input from the Cornell community into choosing which apps to build.

According to Noah Solomon ’24, the vice team leader, identifying problems students face and creating solutions are the first steps in the multi-semester long process of developing a new app. Each semester, the team holds an “app jam” process, where team members present new apps, the best of which are developed into full apps.

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“First of all, we have to make sure that the problem we are solving is a real problem. It involves student interviews, actually talking to students,” Solomon said. “That’s when we start saying, ‘how can we solve this problem from a technical point of view as well as a product perspective?'”

AppDev also offers four one- and two-credit courses each semester, taught by project team members. Students can choose to take courses focused on digital product design, backend development, or iOS or Android development.

Hanzheng Li ’23, team leader, took the iOS development course during his freshman year, and enjoyed that mobile app development allowed a product to get into the hands of users relatively quickly. After being accepted to the team during his sophomore year, Li worked on the iOS development for an app that was eventually scrapped before switching to the Volume app, which brings together all Cornell student publications in a single app.

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AppDev is divided into five different sub-teams, each focused on one part of the app development process, from product design to marketing. After programs are selected to be developed, a pod team of about ten students, composed of students from each sub-team and a product manager, is created. Apps are developed for both Android and iOS, where frontend teams work on the user experience. Other students focus on backend work, which involves getting the correct data from servers to ultimately be displayed to users.

According to Li, teams then set goals to launch the app, creating a product with the core features to function. Later, more features may be added as user feedback – a key component to AppDev’s work – is received.

“We want to get the app out and into people’s hands so we can start creating a cycle of feedback,” Li said. “Once we establish that pipeline, we can continually improve our existing features and come up with new ones that people request.”

The team also hopes to launch two new apps by the end of the spring semester. Scooped is a carpooling app that will eventually allow students to connect with others who travel to the same places over breaks to lower travel costs. Resell is a second-hand market app where students will soon be able to sell old items such as clothes or school-related items such as iClickers.

According to Solomon, because these apps are designed specifically for Cornell students, they differentiate themselves from other products with similar sites like Uber or Facebook Marketplace by having a stronger connection to the community.

“One of the benefits of all of our apps is that they are all specific to Cornell students,” Solomon said. “So while there may be apps out there trying to solve these problems around the country or the world, we have the benefit of seeing how it affects students here.”

In the future, Li hopes the team can continue to create apps that serve the Cornell community while improving the maintenance policies for existing apps. He also hopes that the team will provide AppDev members with the opportunity to create products they are passionate about.

“My vision for the ideal AppDev future is one where everyone is put on a pod in a position where they feel empowered to grow using a technology they’re passionate about,” said Li. “A more concrete vision that I have is just all our applications that are very useful for the students.”

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