It can spoil a good dinner out. Not salmonella: splitting the check. “It’s a huge hassle at restaurants, figuring out who’s paying what to the server,” said Yash Varma, a student in the January 2014 iOS Bootcamp, “Some people are paying cash and others are using a card, then there’s always someone who’s stingy and complains that they shouldn’t pay as much as the next guy.”
Before arriving at Mobile Makers Academy, Yash had been brewing the idea for an app that could solve that issue. When it came time to pitch app ideas for the capstone projects, he made his case to his fellow Makers, and Nick Petersen and Marc Galang jumped on board.
Nick had point of sale (POS) experience as a franchise communications consultant at Focus Brands, and Marc, who had been on "both sides of the order-taking pad,” said, "When Yash pitched his app, I saw all the possibilities of what could branch out of it.” (Read more about Marc here.)
“It’s crazy that we’re still using receipts when smartphones can do everything for us,” Yash said. “Restaurants are following archaic procedures that were good in the 1990s, but in this age of app development, we can move forward to integrating iPads and electronic payments at the table.”
Nick notes that other developers have provided app solutions that failed because they weren’t easy to use. With updates to the iOS and broader familiarity with iPads, he feels like the timing might be right for their app.
One Step at a Time
Of course, first they have to build it, and they’re learning a lot in the process. “Yesterday,” Yash said, "we changed direction three times within the span of two hours. We had a good idea before lunch, then after lunch, we thought it was a bad idea."
“What Mobile Makers has given us—it’s like they've given us a huge box of Legos and instructions, and with that we can do whatever we want. In the beginning of our instruction, I never would have thought about how to create a POS system. Now by the end of week 5 of the class, I know what’s needed. We need to have tableview cells, segues, parse, core data. Everything was coming together in my head, and we all just threw it on the whiteboard and got it set.
"Mobile Makers has helped a lot, especially to think that in 5 weeks we could have created that. If we run into an obstacle, we’ll know how to overcome it, and that’s amazing. You could never learn Objective C in a university setting. The way Mobile Makers integrates you, they not only teach you, they teach you how to figure out problems using external resources like CocoaPods, Stack Overflow and the Apple Documentation."
"A lot of us came here because we knew that, with making apps, the sky is the limit in terms of what we can build,” added Nick. "But having an idea for an app and then taking a peek at making it, I realized it’s very difficult, and I saw that Mobile Makers is a way to open the door to be able to do it.
"I wasn’t sure how they would be able to fully enable us, but after being here, I see that a lot of what they teach is how to learn. So when you run into problems, it may not be exactly what they told you, but in the future when a new version of Xcode or iOS comes out, we’ve learned how to overcome those problems, and we know the best use of those resources, including reaching out to other developers. Which is what we’re doing already, regularly.”
In choosing the app project to work on, Marc said he looked for an opportunity to integrate all the methods and technologies he’d been learning about. “We’re definitely doing that,” he said, "and we already have ideas about things we haven’t used before, like drawers. We’re taking it to the next step as well. We haven’t programmed specifically for the iPad before, but we have a new understanding and we’re just digging right into it, because that’s the best format for this particular app.”
The Soft Skills Matter
“When we started thinking about what we were going to do for three weeks,” said Nick, “we had to ask some tough questions, trying to pin down what are the most important things for this app to do, and what we can tackle in three weeks. They were essential questions, like why this app hadn’t been done successfully before, but we had to figure them out. Making sure we’re all on the same page before we move forward was really important."
“Learning to work together on a team is a gradual learning process,” agreed Yash. “The weekend challenges with pair-programming helped a lot—they were bigger and more robust than the daily challenges. Even though they were smaller compared to our final project, we got a taste of what we would have to do.”
Marc said there’s also great value getting professional design input from Joe Call, the creative director at VOKAL Interactive who contributes some time to each team. “He’s helping us with the experience moving screen to screen, and also with the screen layout. Mobile Makers emphasizes that we’re programmers and that we’ll need to know how to work with other developers. The design aspect goes a long way toward acceptance of an app, so having Joe or any designer as a resource is something that other POS apps we’ve seen didn’t have, and that’s a luxury for us."
"If you go work at a start-up or a dev shop, you’re working as a team, which includes designers and business development,” said Yash, who recently graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a degree in mathematics. “Working on a team for three weeks is actual, real-life work experience that we’re getting in the classroom, and that’s something that universities totally miss. I felt lost when I graduated from college, but this program helps a lot."
Working on teams with people from different backgrounds has opened Nick’s eyes to the potential for their restaurant app. "I realized it’s not just an app we’re building. It could be something that changes how restaurants do business on a daily basis."
Read More About The iOS Bootcamp:
Want to build cool, complex apps? Get the whole story here.