I Made an App for 3 Years
As a cyclist, I ride my bike about 70–80 miles on any given day. This one particular summer day stands out to me, though. I was riding my bike around in new places that I have never been before, and I see this bridge, Wow a bridge never seen one of those before, under the bridge was moss covering its stone walls and on top of it was train tracks. As I rode under the bridge on my bike, I knew I had to take a photo of this. As a person who loves photography, this was an amazing moment for me. Then it hit me… if I was really going to get some sick shots here, I was going to need my DSLR and not just my iPhone. So I thought to myself, how can I save this spot so that I am able to come back to it at a later date. I kept thinking about it, and it struck me that although I could use Google Maps to star it in a way or Apple’s maps to pin it I would have no absolute clue as to what precisely the pins meaning was especially if I did this for all the places I wanted to go back to. So I went to the App Store to find an app that did just that… marked locations of interest in an easy to view and access list. Well, let me just say that I did not find any apps that were updated past what seemed like 2011 which could do this task for me. In the meantime, when I got home that day, I went onto Google Maps, navigated on the 3D view until I found the bridge again, grabbed its coordinates, translated those into the nearest address, and finally stored them in my Notes app on my iPhone. Doing this for each location got old very fast. A few weeks go by, and I see an article online about how app development is becoming more and more popular, and it hit me: the solution was right in front of me. I decided to make an app.
You know that rush that you get when you are about to embark on something new and exciting, but then reality sets in, and about 5 seconds later, you start thinking of everything that will need to get done to accomplish it? Well, that is the exact feeling I had at that moment in time. I mean, what programming language do I even begin to learn to enable me to make an app? According to The Language List, there are about 2500 different types of computer languages, Wikipedia claims 700, but neither of those was quite the confidence booster. I knew I wanted to make the app for iOS, so I started there and eventually stumbled upon a programming language called Swift. I downloaded a program called Xcode, and about 20 gigabytes of computer space gone later, I started at a software program that I knew nothing about with a language that I would be using in it of which I also knew nothing about, lucky me.
Mistake 1 of 1,241
You see, I learn best when doing something myself and seeing the outcome of it in other words by trial and error. But the issue here is that how can I trial something when I don’t even know what I am doing in the first place? So I had to at least learn the basics of Xcode and Swift to be able to start trying things out and see what works and does not. So I went to the great, mindless content platform we call YouTube and began watching video after video. Actually, in all honesty, after 2 videos give or take, I quit and was too bored, so I went back to Xcode and began hitting buttons. That was a mistake as I would learn later on Xcode is a program that is very powerful but also delicate. In short, it froze my Mac with the spinning lollipop of death and forced me to reboot the Mac. Eventually, after finding some sample apps online, I was able to understand how they work and got started coding. About 5 months in and an app which I called My Spot was born…
Yeah, I know it’s terrible, right? Like real bad. It makes me cringe just looking at it today, but back then, I had the impression that it was an amazing and modern design. About 8 months into this and I sent the app (half done I must mention) out to a few friends for beta testing as I called it. They came back to me saying the app is slow, unresponsive and what hit me the hardest… poorly designed. Who would have guessed? And that was mistake #1, which would cost me in total over 8 months of work.
Quitting it All
I am sure you have heard the saying time after time to learn from your mistakes. Well, in this case, I did the opposite. I quit after only 8 months I said f**k it and gave up… almost entirely. You see I say almost because after months of reaching out to countless people for help — for free I may add as I had no money to pay anyone at this point — on subreddits, Twitter, Instagram, and Slack one morning I got a 24-word answer in one sentence which read something like “Listen I am sorry, but we have families to feed and although I want to help out I just can’t. Best of luck, though.” That is when it hit me. If anyone was going to do this, it would be me, and I should stop asking others to help me out when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself with some guidance, of course. And that guidance came from a man named Austin. I found him on Twitter and soon discovered he was one of the designers for Square on the Cash App which I must say is so cool. After talking to him for a while and sending him some designs of the app, he was able to help guide me in the right direction. He taught me some of the most important lessons about design that I will never forget.
3 Rules of Design
1. Keep it as simple as possible
2. If you think it’s simple already, then you failed and need to make it even simpler
3. Make it simple!
Get the theme here? If you don’t, it is to make it SIMPLE! So I deleted the entire project and started all over again. But this time it was going to be different I could feel it.
The Dream Team
With this newfound energy, I knew I needed to do things differently, so instead of going right into the coding, I researched the best databases (to store all the data) and came across Firebase, which seemed like a great tool to start out. I bought a program called Sketch, which I still use today and almost every day, and finally, I contacted some friends of mine for some help. We all got together, and this became what I would call the dream team (all of them were willing to help me out for nothing! Which to this day, I could not thank enough). From Gabi who helped make choices on which designs looked better (and trust me I was one lousy judge on this) to Zach, who over the next 2 years would be the one who would tell me “Matt calm down, we will get through this” a countless number of times when I got error after error while coding.
3, 2, 1, Lift Off
Another year goes by, and I am now 17. Over this year, I did what I should have done the first time around… learn. You see, my mistake was that I was overconfident in my ability to code and myself. I thought my designs were perfect and that my code was made for fast and stable performance on all iOS devices, but I was far from right about that one, and when I found out that it wasn’t, it hit me hard. At that point, I had tried to just call it quits, but little by little friends of mine built my confidence back up and enabled me to continue what I originally set out to do. For many of you reading this, you may think it’s just an app, and sure it is just an app to you that is, to me, it is so much more as it is my app. It was something that I did and could tell people I did something I could be proud of. And so over that year, I learned how to code and design and made sure that what I was doing was actually learning from my mistakes. It is now the summer of 2018, and the new designs are completed with the help of my entire team and Austin and everyone else along the way…
This design eventually became…
At this point, I reached out to a person on What’s App. He set up an Xcode project with about 200 lines of code in it and sent it to me. This 200 lines of code in a little over a year turned into over 15,500 lines of code when completed. Skip forward past the many 1 AM nights of debugging errors and finding out it was such a simple mistake time after time and in September of 2019 My Spot V1.0 launched in the Apple App Store.
As of February 2020, I am currently 18 years old and My Spot has over 1.8K users in the 5 months it has been out with many of them loving the app. Today My Spot allows you to mark locations of interest to you, save them in an easy to view list, add a tag and photo to each one as well as share them on a feed within the app for others to see and add the spots you share to their own list of places to visit. The app is free and always will be.
When I tell someone I made an app and explain it to them, their jaw usually drops and they next ask, “how old are you again?” And “can I get your name so that I can read about you in Time magazine someday?”. They act as if I am some celebrity, but I assure you I am not. I am no famous person, nor was that my goal. My goal was not to become wealthy after having made an app, as so many wrongly assume one does. My goal was to create an app and solve an issue that I had. That’s the simple answer. I am writing this story for one reason and one reason only to get this message across:
Just being able to say you succeed means that you have. Whether others see it, that way is beyond your control, but success comes in many different forms and values, and your form and value are only found by finding what you love to do most.
For me, this was coding. Every day I sat down and coded after school for a little while before getting into my studies, and I can say that it was and still is a way to relax for me. It became my reset button after long days and so sure I made an app, but it was with the intention of getting rich or famous but to show others what I love to do and maybe just maybe solve one more issue in the world.
Who would have guessed that an app would have changed my outlook on life? I sure didn’t.
If you love exploring new places as I do, whether it’s 20 miles away from your home or around the globe, I would recommend checking out My Spot. It is available for iOS devices in the Apple App Store. To learn more about My Spot click here.