Sameer Vijay: Digital Creator

“There’s an entire world of things to make”

March 2016

Summary

Sameer Vijay, a Junior at Saint Francis High, is working to revolutionize the way students study. He has developed a new flashcard app powered by voice recognition and scoring algorithms. Flashify studies with you; it tells you if you’ve said the right definition, and even says it back to you. Here’s more about Sameer and his iOS app!


Interview

Q: How did you get started with coding?

A: When I started, I was just trying to figure out how iOS programming works, so I played around and worked on a few little projects. Like many young coders, I started out hoping to make a game that was going to go big. But after I learned how to program, I changed my approach and focused on making something that helps people. That’s how it evolved into me making productivity apps. At the end of the day, even if other people don’t like what you’ve made, at least it’s something you can use.

The first legitimate app I made was a chess timer, because I had played for about 8 or 9 years before that. The reason I coded it, was because in chess, you need a heavy physical timer, but if you just want to play casually without lugging that thing around, you’re out of luck. I had never came across an iPhone chess timer that was convenient to use, so I decided to create my own. The app itself was simple, but I thought it was useful. After that, I dabbled with software like facial recognition and GPS and experimented with different technologies. Then, I made Flashify.

Q: What inspired you to make Flashify?

A: I remember when I was younger and needed to study vocabulary back in first or second grade, I would study with my mom. If i needed to memorize the definition of a word, she would have me say it out loud, about three times or so. I don’t know why it worked, and I still don’t today, but I found out I was more of an auditory learner. After 8th grade, you just can’t study with your mom anymore, but of course I stopped way before that ;). So essentially, my mom inspired Flashify.

Q: Major setbacks?

A: My speech recognition software and scoring algorithm weren’t amazing when I started out, and it’s been a gradual process improving them. It’s been a continuous process to add features and improve existing ones to make the app easier to use and provide the best UX (user experience). But if you give a developer an indefinite amount of time, he or she will continue improving the product until it never comes out.

Q: What’s it like working by yourself?

A: It’s been tough meeting deadlines, since I don’t have someone like a boss yelling in my ear. What I’ve been doing, though, is giving myself periodic deadlines for certain features I want to finish. If I don’t meet the deadline, I scrap parts of a specific feature that I don’t think are useful to keep myself moving. I’ve learned that trying to do everything at the same time is simply impossible.

I also don’t have a real mentor, only occasional help and advice from my parents, as well as some feedback from friends in the ed-tech space, who have been suggesting improvements or new features. Working in groups is something everyone has to do in the future though, especially in this field, so there are disadvantages and advantages to working alone.

Q: Is coding something you want to do in college?

A: For now, I think I’m one of those kids on the defined CS path, but it’s definitely hard to decide what you want to do with your life as a 16 year old kid. So far, I think I want to do programming. But something might change in college, and I might become an art major or something :).

Q: It seems like you’ve gained a lot more than just technical experience working on this. Tell us about that!

A: In terms of project management, I learned how to keep myself to a deadline and also how to set more realistic deadlines. In writing the scoring algorithms, I had to do some research on linguistic analysis and the English language itself so that I could write, for example, code that would determine which words are more important in a definition. For user design, I had to study user behavior, like where someone’s eyes go to first in an app. And I was also forced to learn design in the process too. It’s definitely gone beyond just computer science.

Q: So what’s the secret to project management?

A: I’m still working on setting realistic deadlines, but the number one thing to remember is that before you try to roll out the entire project or all your features, you should prioritize what you think is most important, and schedule based off of that. If there’s something you think would be more valuable or helpful to a user, dedicate more time and thought towards it. It comes down to game-planning what's most important.

Q: How does this compare to what you’re doing in school?

A: I think it’s more interesting, not because what I’m doing in school is boring, but because this is something I get to choose to do. And since this is something I personally find beneficial and useful, I have more of a personal stake in it.

Q: Do you think other kids should follow your path and start their own projects?

A: It’s definitely a lot of fun starting projects, if you enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t like what you’re doing in school, find something you do enjoy doing. My “thing” happens to be a boring educational app :D. If you find something you like, go pursue it!

Q: Future plans for Flashify?

A: I spent most of the summer and this school year working on the iPad version, and I’m getting ready to release that soon. But I’m actually trying to close the book on Flashify, since I’ve already spent about a year and a half on it. So in the summer, I’ll probably dive into my little book of ideas.

Q: Let’s hear some fun facts about the app!

This is some pretty nerdy stuff:

  • Over 20,000 lines of code
  • Couple hundred hours in Photoshop

Keep your eyes peeled for the release of the iPad version of Flashify, but in the meantime, check it out for the iPhone here and in the App Store!


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Got more questions or seeking advice? Contact Sameer!