Courtesy of Sreang Hok

Project team Cornell AppDev has designed and launched several apps popular amongst the Cornell community, such as CourseGrab and Eatery.

February 8, 2023

Into the Source Code: A Look Into Cornell AppDev

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

Product lead Archit Mehta ’25 estimates that around 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 too was one of those users, making use of the CourseGrab app to enroll into high-demand classes during the Add/Drop period. 

When 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 which would contain more information, such as incorporating Collegetown restaurant menus into the app. The updated app is intended to be released soon. Currently, Mehta’s work entails overseeing all of the apps in development and including more input from the Cornell community in choosing which apps to build.

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

“We have to first of all make sure the problem we’re solving is a real problem. That involves student interviews, actually talking to students,” Solomon said. “That’s when we start saying, ‘how can we solve this problem from a technical standpoint as well as a product perspective?’”

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

Hanzheng Li ’23, team lead, took the iOS development course during his freshman year, and enjoyed that mobile app development allowed for 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 ultimately scrapped before moving to the Volume app, which brings together all Cornell student publications into a single app.

AppDev is divided into five different subteams, each focused on one part of the app development process, from product design to marketing. After apps are chosen to be developed, a pod team of around ten students, composed of students from each subteam 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 entails getting the correct data from servers to eventually 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 on, more features can 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 have that pipeline established, we can continuously improve our existing features and come up with new ones that people request.”

The team is also hoping to launch two new apps by the end of the spring semester. Scooped is a rideshare app that will eventually allow students to connect with others traveling to the same locations over breaks to lower travel expenses. Resell is a secondhand marketplace 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 set themselves apart from other products with similar premises like Uber or Facebook Marketplace by having a stronger connection to the community. 

“One of the benefits of all our apps is they’re all specifically for Cornell students,” Solomon said. “So even though there might exist apps out there that are trying to solve these problems across the country or the world, we have the benefit of seeing how they impact students here.”

In the future, Li hopes that 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’re passionate about.

“My vision for the ideal AppDev future is one where everybody is placed on a pod in a position where they feel empowered to grow using a technology that they’re passionate about,” Li said. “A more concrete vision I have is just all of our apps being super useful to the students.”