The increasing disruptions to daily routines, loss of conveniences, and general disarray caused by the current pandemic led myself and my would-be team to make the difficult decision to withdraw from this year’s App Challenge. It’s unfortunate, as we already had a few good ideas brewing, though when we thought realistically on the situation, we knew in the end it wouldn’t be feasible to put forth an app, much less our best work. Despite not participating this year, I’ve taken some time to reflect back on my experience as part of a team in the 2018 ECCE App Challenge. Although our team didn’t make it to the top placements, it was still an incredibly rewarding and fun (if at times, intense) week, which ultimately left me a little bit tired, and a little bit wiser. Here are a few things I learned during my brief but busy stint as an app builder, which hopefully will serve me in the future when I reattempt the Challenge next year.

1. It’s hard to find complete data on a dime

As anyone who’s ever worked with GIS will know, it can be difficult to obtain complete datasets covering all of the attribute information you’ll need, and this problem is amplified when you’re trying to get an app completed within a week! Sometimes despite your best search efforts, you won’t be able to find all of the information you’ll need, or maybe the dataset is incomplete for important records or events. Although each member of our team already had a vague idea of what they believed would make a novel and useful app, along with what data would be required to achieve it, none of us had ascertained in advance that such information was readily and publicly available. Next time, I would formulate an idea around data that I already know is, or would likely be, accessible.

2. Matching schedules is important

Of course, a lot of the app work can be divided up between team members and tackled individually, in proper sequence. However, it’s a great advantage when the entire team is able to meet together at least two or three times in the week. In addition to the benefit of having your teammates on hand to help when you run into little issues (small snags can turn into big headaches!) or to ask another’s opinion, it also allows you to develop and evolve the project together, when new and potentially better ideas might take hold and steer the project  or an aspect of it (e.g. the video promotion) in a slightly different direction.

3. Good art takes time

Although building the app is generally the central focus, the design and aesthetic appeal is also important! It’s easy to spend so much time fine tuning the functionality and text in your app that you inadvertently neglect the other aspects that can really make your app ‘pop’ – a pleasing and harmonious colour palette, well composed quality photos, and a creative, engaging video can go a long way. Next time, I would allot more time to brainstorming a unique video to help the app stand out, and more time to obtaining quality photos of locations, if applicable again (stock photos of locations aren’t always spectacular, and finding a willing model for action photos can be difficult!)

4. As they say, programming is not required – but it definitely helps!

Although you can win the App Challenge using strictly out of the box functionalities and widgets, it’s definitely a boon to have someone on the team with a moderate programming background. Familiarity with coding allows you to not only tailor the look of your app but to capture nearly any data application you can think of, time and data permitting. My experience in the App Challenge, GIS, and from growing demands in general has motivated me to begin taking lessons in Python, Java, and C++. I’m currently just a novice, but learning to program now will definitely pay off in the future, and perhaps in a future challenge.

Good luck to all the contestants of this year’s App Challenge! 🙂