Po-Ju Chen and Kairong Zhang, two University of Chicago students enrolled in the Masters Program in Computer Science (MPCS), recently won the Apple Swift Student Challenge; a competition that offers participants an exciting opportunity to demonstrate their skills in Swift programming and app development. Students have the chance to create innovative applications and tackle real-world problems using the Swift language. The winners receive one year of membership in the Apple Developer Program, a complimentary voucher to take an App Development with Swift certification exam, and a special gift from Apple.

Chen and Zhang were taking iOS Development, taught by Assistant Professor Andrew Binkowski when they first learned about the challenge. Binkowski encouraged students to submit projects to the Apple Swift Challenge as part of the course.

MPCS student, Po-Ju Chen

Chen’s background in computer science and desire to utilize technology to improve people’s everyday lives drew him to the challenge. By developing and releasing applications on the App Store, Po-Ju saw an opportunity for his ideas to directly benefit people.

“I saw the [Apple Swift Student Challenge] as a wonderful opportunity to fully commit myself to a project,” Chen stated. “I spent considerable time developing something meaningful while adhering to the course’s demands.”

For the challenge, he developed a puzzle game titled ‘Happy Merge: Animal Carnival’. As Chen is an avid gamer, he has always been curious about the mechanics behind games, and learning to program gave him a newfound understanding into game design and development.

“The primary goal of this game is to deliver joy to its players,” Chen said. “It has already garnered a user base, and I plan to continue updating the game to keep providing fun and engagement to my users.”

MPCS student, Kairong Zhang

Unlike Chen, Zhang did not have a heavy background in computer science before starting her second master’s degree at UChicago. She looked at the challenge as a way to create something that would solve a common problem for herself and other students; breaking into the job market. Zhang developed “Future Express”, an application for students to look at the latest job postings in computer science, data science, and analyst industries. Contrary to existing job platforms, which are cluttered with promotional material, “Future Express” allows students to clearly see the newly posted jobs in chronological order. Students can also request professionals to apply for jobs for them, saving a few hours every day.

Future Express layout

“This idea solves my own problem,” Zhang says. “CS students experience a really tough market today, especially for international students who require sponsorship to work. Often, we have to apply to hundreds, if not thousands of jobs, before we get an offer. Traditional platforms post the jobs in a company-preferred way, but not the student-preferred way. My approach is to help students like myself land an offer by applying to the most recent jobs for them in the volume and persistence that we cannot do ourselves.”

Both students plan to continue working in app development. Zhang hopes to start a company inspired by her app, beginning with a website that will be launched in July. The class will be taught again in the winter of 2025 by Binowski and is open to students in the MPCS program.

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