Flatiron School & The White House’s Opportunity Project: Building iOS Apps With Open Data To Support American Communities

Flatiron School students getting ready to present at the White House!

Technology has changed the way we live. From Uber to Fitbit, apps and technology-enabled businesses have impacted how we get around, how we access information, and how we stay healthy and fit. Here at Flatiron School, we’re aiming to change how we learn. And all of this innovation is powered by data.

Now, through The Opportunity Project, President Obama has made massive government data sets available to the public, enabling nonprofits, businesses, and citizens — including our very own mobile development students here at Flatiron School — to utilize them to build digital tools that help address tough societal challenges.

As part of The Opportunity Project, our students answered the White House’s call to harness Federal open data to help American communities, creating seven civic-minded iOS apps, available now in Apple’s App Store. Today, two of the student-built apps — FeedNYC and CareerSpark — will be demoed at the White House!

Making volunteering a little bit easier

FeedNYC was created by Flatiron School students Henry Dinhofer, Cenker Demir, Jenny Shalai, and Dennis Vera, two of whom received NYC Tech Talent Pipeline scholarships. FeedNYC employs geolocation tools and a dataset from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to give users information about nearby food pantries and soup kitchens in NYC. “We realized how hard and time consuming it was to find data on these resources,” Demir says. “So we aimed to make an app that easily connects you with any of the 350 or so facilities all around NYC.”

A closer look at FeedNYC.

With FeedNYC, the group hopes to give people who would like to volunteer a seamless way to reach out to facilities, or to direct those who need help accessing food toward nearby locations. Demir continues, “Even restaurants or supermarkets can use FeedNYC to find food pantries and soup kitchens that can take their extra food donations. There are so many different ways that this app can help New Yorkers in need.”

Embracing an active lifestyle

A scenic walk suggested by Walkmore.

Walkmore, another student-built app, answers the Surgeon General’s call for apps that improve users’ health and emotional well-being. By generating different walking paths for users and highlighting points of interest along the routes, the student-built app encourages users to take longer walks — and live more-active lifestyles.

The students behind Walkmore, Sergey Nevzorov, Elli Scharlin, Michael Amundsen, and Ryan Cohen, represent diverse paths to programming: Nevzorov was a sommelier in Russia before immigrating to the US and learning to code; Cohen had completed one year of college toward a Bachelor of Science before deciding to attend Flatiron School and pursue mobile development.

“I had programmed solo for the last four years,” Cohen says. “But being in a setting where programming is collaborative — where code is flung around everywhere — it can only make you hungrier. Flatiron School decreased my self-doubt and increased my drive; I created things and solved problems I thought I never could.” Cohen accepted a paid internship as an iOS Developer at goTenna within two weeks of completing the Flatiron School program and shipping his Opportunity Project app to the App Store. “I couldn’t have done it without the love and support I received while at Flatiron,” Cohen says.

Exploring career paths

CareerSpark, created by Salmaan Rizvi, Shea Furey-King and Lloyd W. Sykes, helps students and career-changers research different career paths based on their interests.

“We started looking through the databases opened up by The Opportunity Project to find out which ones were relatively recent and had useful information,” says Lloyd of the inspiration for the app. The group’s mission is to use White House data to give high school students a sense of their career options — especially options that may not have occurred to them — given their interests. “It was challenging working with such large databases and ensuring the information was being displayed within the the app in the way we wanted. Parsing XML files was a new challenge for us,” Lloyd says. “It wasn’t something I learned explicitly at Flatiron, but Flatiron taught me how to learn to do it quickly. I was blown away once it actually started working how it was supposed to!”

A potential career path from the CareerSpark app.

Now that CareerSpark has been accepted into the App Store, the group “would love to add more social features, such as the ability to login via Facebook or a Google,” Lloyd explains. “We’d also like to add the capability to share your favorite career options to different social networking sites.”

The other apps our students created for the project are Community Radar, Greenway NYC, FarmSquare, and Safey NYC. Anyone with access to the Apple App Store can download all seven apps for free.

Coding for good

The government’s embrace of Open Data has empowered a new generation of citizens — some of whom we’re lucky to have here at Flatiron School — to effect positive change on both a local and national level.

The most heartening thing to see: the students involved, few of whom had any programming experience before attending Flatiron School, are using their brand new skills not just to pursue new careers, but to make meaningful contributions to their communities.