Malholtra and Shameed Job,
what started out as playful brainstorming of ideas for phone applications in their Precalculus class Junior year, turned into their pathway to winning a prestigious national award: the Congressional App Challenge. Throughout the summer before their senior year, these High School West students had started seriously considering creating an app as a real possibility, what with their advanced skill sets and interest in programming and coding. After many late nights of planning, they represent High School West and Congressional District 3 all across America. In just three months, Krish and Shameed were able to create a phone application that would be viewed by the forefront representatives of this country: Fyesta.
The Congressional App Challenge, formed in 2013 by the House of Representatives to foster an interest in STEM fields, is one of the most distinguished awards offered in the field of Computer Science for teenagers across the country. Contestants participate from rural towns, major cities, and even from the suburbs of Long Island. The Congressional App Challenge was formed on the basis of the Congressional Initiative: to cultivate and incorporate a sense of technology and communication to STEM in policy making and government.
In Congressional District NY03, where Krish and Shameed participated, New York Congressional Representative Thomas Suozzi overlooks and leads the process, unifying what it means to be a student and an active participant in our own government. The Congressional App Challenge is supported by big-name companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Verizon, further emphasizing Krish and Shameed’s accomplishments within our district. This annual competition is open to all high school and middle school students in teams of one to four, with no limitations or guidelines put on the creation of the app. Without prompts or creative restrictions, Krish and Shameed were allowed to explore various ideas before finalizing their app, Fyesta. After submission, the app is judged on the incorporation of programming and coding skills along with design and creativity by a panel of local STEM experts.
Fyesta, in Krish’s words, is “a social media app that fosters real-life interactions.” He emphasizes that Fyesta combines the technological world into everyday life by creating events and plans with friends and community members nearby. The entire premise of the app is based on local maps, allowing close community events and hanging out with friends much more accessible on one shared platform. With the use of an advanced global system, communities formed in day to day life become present on our mobiles. With innovative features such as account personalization, themes, and a variety of events, Fyesta becomes a tool for all types of events and lifestyles.
As of now, the first version is currently available on Apple and Android app stores, but the app is planned for renovations and new features soon. Already, in Version 1.1, Krish and Shameed have been able to fix bugs, roll out new themes, and create interactive profiles.
Fyesta is easily navigated using three main focal points: Share, Search, and Social. The Share aspect focuses on the creation of events, both public and private, but still easily accessible and appealing to friends and community through event tags and custom images. Similarly, Search is based on the geographical map the app is centered around. From a birds-eye view of the world and the ability to go in-depth in certain areas, Fyesta makes finding local events easier and reliable. But what Fyesta is most noted for is the social aspect that allows users to send friend requests, block other users, and interact with a community from the tap of a screen. Fyesta resembles popular social media apps such as Instagram and Twitter with the app description reading, “Fyesta is the newest way to find out what is going on around the world.”
In fact, as high school students, they were well aware of the problem they were trying to solve: planning and organizing real-life events in the digital age. By making their platform a social media app that is easy to follow they appealed to their projected audience, a group they are familiar with: high schoolers. However, they do stress that although this app was created by teenagers, its efficiency and ease of use enables it to reach users of all ages, young or old.
The idea started with one of their classmates, Safa Bilal, a fellow Senior. Safa explained that she interns for Congressman Thomas Suozzi who introduced her to the competition. After hearing about such a prestigious award, Safa immediately thought of Krish and Shameed. “I recommended them because they are both beyond brilliant and work really hard. I’m so proud of them for all that they’ve done.” They originally started working on the project because “We felt like we could make something impressive with our combined knowledge of computer science,” said Krish. Although their programming and computer science history diverged, through different programming languages and projects, they stated, “at the end of the day, we knew that if anyone could use programming to change our community, it would be us.”
According to their personal statement for the Congressional App Challenge, “Our inspiration to create this app stemmed from a need. We realized it has become difficult to organize your plans for the weekend and keep track of who was available.” A majority of the development happened in September before school started. In fact, by the time they had found out about the contest and seriously committed to the idea of Fyesta they only had two weeks to create a presentable project before the deadline. Fortunately, the duo completed everything and submitted the application just hours before the final deadline.
Now, they’re working on fixing bugs and creating new features to appeal to a wider audience. These new themes and attractive settings, Shameed explained, “are features that I picked up from video games and social media.” Other features they hope to release in the near future is an in-app currency that would allow the user to purchase themes and accessorize their own account along with comments and announcements to enhance user interaction in the app. Their biggest aim with the app Shameed emphasized, “is for the design of the app to be different from the mold of normal social media apps. Moving forward, we want our app to always embody the idea of being fresh and familiar.” In a video submitted to the Congressional App Challenge, Krish revealed, “As we were adding some of the final features, we realized how much of an impact this app could make.” By realizing the impact their app could have, they added a tool for charities and fundraisers to organize events and receive donations. In a video submitted to the Congressional App Challenge, Krish revealed, “However, creating an app and using designing platforms comes with its costs. To alleviate the financial burdens that can come with designing an app, they planned to implement a tool for event planners to advertise their events on Fyesta.
For both of them, programming has been a passion of theirs for a long time, starting the basics at a young age. Although interested in programming for most of his life, Krish actively started programming his freshman year when he took Java, a programming language, as an elective. From this elective, his interest moved into other computer science courses offered at our school, until he completed the final course: College Computer Science B his Junior Year.
In October, Krish released an app called “Slidey Ball” on the app store. The recreational app was Krish’s first real project which he said: “taught [him] the prerequisites required in releasing an app and made the process more familiar.” Krish is considering majoring in computer science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Moving away from app design, Krish shared that he is planning on focusing on Artificial Intelligence within computer science. Eventually, he plans on starting his own company involved with software development.
For Shameed, it started all the way back in elementary school. In third grade, Shameed began teaching himself how to code, fueling his own interest. He admitted, “Most of my skill has been learned from thinking something is cool and then watching videos until I know how to do it.” This drive eventually led him to develop games once he had a solid grasp of coding. With these years of game development, he was able to pick up 3D Modeling and graphic design skills that became beneficial in the creation of Fyesta. Like Krish, Shameed also intends to major in computer science with a business minor. He is drawn to NYU because, as he explained, “I want to go to NYU because of the magnitude of the campus and diversity of the students. I really like the idea of collaborating with other like-minded and entrepreneurial students to develop projects that can change lives.” At High School West, computer science courses are readily available for prospective students. Mr. Maroney, a Computer Science teacher at Hills West explained, “We live in a technology-driven time and for students to thrive and have the skills for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs, computer science should be taken in high school.” He emphasized that taking these classes early on will instill a foundation that will make programming easier for future jobs and careers. Especially looking at the career landscape, these computer science classes, and STEM in general, are highly valued because there is a large shortage of qualified people.
At High School West there are many enriched programs such as AP Computer Principles, Java I and Java II, and AP CS A. These classes in particular were fundamental to the process of app making for Krish and Shameed. Maroney stated, “One of the things that I love about programming is that it is very creative; coming up with ideas to solve problems. There are many solutions to the same problem, analyzing which might be the best and easiest to implement is a skill that takes time and practice to learn.” The programming skills taught at HSW are based on creativity, structure, and algorithm analysis.
Although a lot of their skills can be credited to the wide array of classes available in Computer Science, the creation of the app happened outside of school, through late nights and trying to meet deadlines. For the creation of the app, Shameed chose Flutter SDK, a cross-platform development tool, which, simplified, is a collection of commands and tools that help assemble the app into a final project. Flutter SDK utilizes a computer language, named DART, which was easy for Shameed to pick up as his prior experience aided him. Another integral part of Fyesta is the community aspect which they incorporated through the use of maps. For the map functionality, the app integrates Google Maps as the foundation for its global connection. Similarly, through Google’s Firebase program, a platform to develop apps, they were able to ensure the safety of the user’s personal data. Likewise, to fit both Android and iOS users and minimize creation time, Flutter SDK ported the code to both operating systems. Doing so, they ensure user consistency on both platforms.
This way, Krish and Shameed would not need to work on two different versions of the app and, essentially, cut development time by half. With Flutter SDK’s efficiency, the duo relied on its simplification of complicated steps into just a few simple commands. However, despite the efficiency of Flutter SDK, creating an app meant devoting hours each day, as Shameed admitted, “While Fyesta only took about three months to finish, we worked for hours almost every night to make its first version as good as possible.”
Shameed described his role as, “We never really gave ourselves titles but because of our workload, it ended up that I became the lead designer and programmer.”
The relationship between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs is well known: Job’s marketing skills and Wozniak’s knowledge of computers and programming created the perfect balance in forming a billion-dollar company. In a similar vein, Fyesta was created by two like-minded individuals with two completely different skill sets. Shameed shared, “I feel like this dynamic really worked out because I had a lot of freedom to work on anything I thought would be fun and implement it and rely on Krish to make sure that everything was practical and we could publish the app.”
Although Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s come-up was an integral part of creating the likes of Silicon Valley and successful, young programmers, our generation would better understand Krish and Shameed’s dynamics with the Disney duo, Phineas and Ferb. Just as Krish and Shameed worked throughout the summer, designing and manufacturing an app, Phineas and Ferb spent their summer vacation creating nanobots and painting an entire continent. Krish, who takes on the role of Phineas, is the face and voice of the projects, following through with them and publicizing it to their peers. On the flipside, Ferb, who is noted to spare few words and spend most of his time tinkering away, reflects Shameed’s own ambitions in Fyesta’s creation.
This past February, Krish, and Shameed attended an award ceremony in Cold Spring Harbor to commemorate their win in our district. At the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Congressman Tom Suozzi congratulated students on their advanced scientific achievements in his district, notably Krish and Shameed’s advancement in the Congressional App Challenge. Moving forward, they were planned to have the opportunity to go to Washington D.C. on March 24th and present their project for the Congressional Competition in front of Congress, but unfortunately, due to the outbreak of Covid-19, their trip was canceled.
According to the duo, they have not received any information on when the trip will be rescheduled. Despite the setbacks they’ve faced due to the recent pandemic, Mr. Maroney emphasized that “One of the most important attributes that a programmer can have is perseverance. Writing an app of this magnitude takes many hours of writing, testing, and correcting code. It is easy to get discouraged during this process, but they worked through the problems and created a fundamentally working app, which they can be proud of.”