An App for Student Snow Days by Adela Crandell

“The proof is in the pudding,” as the old saying goes.  Or in this case, the proof is in the prediction.  Calvin Breseman, Tanishq Dubey, and Gustavo Farias proved to their classmates at Prairie Grove High School that the can accurately predict snow days using their homegrown Android App, Snow Day Calculator.

IMG_0933“Don’t do your homework, snow day tomorrow,” Calvin posted on Facebook.

Since that day, people downloaded more than 3000 copies of the 18 year-olds’ free app with near 100% accuracy for over 60 metropolitan areas around the country.

My Quality curiosity made me contact these fellows.  We sat down together to talk about how they built such a reliable, customer-focused app.

From left to right: Gustavo Farias, Tanishq Dubey, Calvin Breseman

From left to right:
Gustavo Farias, Tanishq Dubey, Calvin Breseman

Calvin and Tanishq developed the app after taking a college class in programming.  Their teacher, Mr. Burger, taught them how to program in JAVA, which is what android apps use.  The class gave them the basic foundation.  The app required 400-500 lines of code. According to Calvin that is “not that much.”  They also used Android Studio to develop the app.

Okay, but that’s the back-end of the work.  First Calvin and Tanishq developed the algorithm.  Tanishq did most of the programming, while Calvin worked on design aspects.

They share the spreadsheet through GoogleDoc, which makes it easy to update.

It probably helped that they thought of the idea in the wintertime.  Cold, dark days and nights, hoping for snow days, drove the duo to the computer starting in 2012.  The algorithm takes into account wind speed and snowfall rate.  Their original prototype also required temperature, but they soon found that skewed the results, and led to inaccurate prediction.  They gathered data from noaa.gov for in-depth, hour-by-hour data collection, then input the data into their spreadsheet.  In order to be accurate in different parts of the country, the algorithm takes into account the average snowfall per year for the area with the assumption that the resources devoted to snow removal is proportional to the inches/year.

So what is Gustavo’s role in all of this?  He came late to the game, as the app promoter.  He’s the “people person” of the budding business group.

“I’ll get the Northwest Herald to cover you,” he said.

Calvin and Tanishq just laughed, “Yeah, right.”

Gustavo came through, and then some.  The AP and NBC5Chicago picked up the story.

Once they decided to build the app, the young men took a systematic approach.

  • First came defining the problem.  They learned in their High School engineering class that defining and refining the problem statement takes time.  The class devoted the first two weeks just to problem definition.
  • Next, came developing the tool, which required many iterations of the spreadsheet to assure areas as diverse as Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Seattle, yielded accurate results. They created the first version in 2012 and refined the formula until 2013 to assure accuracy.
  • Finally, they developed and tested the app.  They removed back doors, and dead-end code.

Due to their diligence, not a single app-crash occurred in the 3000 downloads to date.  And the app is the Number One GooglePlay app for predicting snow days:  That’s Snow Day Calculator by Boreas Applications.

Not to rest on their laurels, Tanishq, Calvin, and Gustavo continually refine the app based on user feedback.  Because of the various screen sizes different models of smart-phones, some users had difficulty with navigation.  The young men get annoyed with bad reviews, but they assess every complaint and respond to their customers’ needs.

The obvious question:  What about an iPhone app?  Tanishq and Calvin learned from Gustavo that iPhone users have different interface expectations than Android users.  Developing iPhone apps requires specific Apple tools, which they don’t have right now.  Still, that is in their plans.  Plus, they are working on a version that will glean information using the GPS of the smart-phone and input the data directly, thus reducing the amount of user input.

Gustavo was a foreign exchange student from Brazil last year, but transferred as a permanent student for 2013-14.  He wishes to study economics or marketing.  He may go back to Brazil for college or preferably, attend Madison, University of Wisconsin.  He plays football, and is involved in the theatre group at Prairie Grove High School.  This summer, Gustavo will be a translator at the World Cup soccer games.  He has one brother, a quiet 12-year-old, still in Brazil.  He advises other kids his age to grab the opportunities that you see and try to be a part of them. Don’t think that just because you are in high school that you can’t do it.

Calvin has three brothers and one sister, all younger than he.  He works with his architect dad during the summer, helping collect measurements and design data.  He plays Baseball in the spring, which requires about 30 hours a week.   Notre Dame accepted his application, but he’s got some other schools he’s waiting to hear from:  John Hopkins University, University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania.

Tanishq began programming when he was eleven years old.  He is one of five Senior Class Presidents and a Mathlete.  He is also part of the theatre tech group for the spring play. Tanishq has one younger brother.  He credits his dad for fostering his interest in programming.   He plans to go to University of Illinois and major in computer engineering.    Tanishq’s advice:  Don’t be discouraged by failure; start small and work up.

Offering a free app provides opportunities.  Because of their success with Snow Day Calculator, people contact them to build apps.  Among other things, their high school engineering classes help them understand that one of the most important aspects of solving a problem is to thoroughly and accurately define the problem.  They agree that the skills they are learning will help them assess opportunities for their future.

For now, Calvin, Gustavo, and Calvin are busy finishing high school and modifying Snow Day Calculator to delight their customers.

 

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