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UW-Parkside’s App Factory lets students make an app for that

 In this Sept. 13, 2016 photo, University of Wisconsin-Parkside students sit at the main table inside the App Factory while working on various projects in Kenosha, Wis. (Ricardo Torres/The Journal Times via AP)

University of Wisconsin-Parkside students sit at the main table inside the App Factory while working on various projects in Kenosha on Sept. 13. (Ricardo Torres/The Journal Times via AP)

By RICARDO TORRES
The Journal Times of Racine

SOMERS, Wis. (AP) — Mike Carey, senior at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, had a bug that he couldn’t find. As a computer science major, Carey spent a lot of time in the App Factory on campus and it wasn’t the first time he buried himself there to solve a problem.

“There are times when I’m like ‘I should go eat,’ ” Carey said about spending hours trying to solve a problem. “And then I run into a bug and I really want to fix it … I won’t eat for hours.”

The App Factory provides a space for students to work as paid interns on real projects, coding for different programs and apps which will be used on smartphones and tablets for companies, The Journal Times of Racine reported.

Carey thought there may be been something wrong with the data that he was using, but he eventually fixed the bug.

“It was off by one letter and I sat down for a good three or four hours before I finally came to the point (that) it wasn’t the database,” Carey said. “I just misspelled something.”

Occasionally, problems like this arise in the App Factory, but the purpose of the space is not to spend 24 hours straight in front of a laptop, it’s to further their education.

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“Our objective here at the App Factory is to rally have the students industry-ready by the time they graduate,” said Zaid Altahat, project manager at the App Factory, adding that it will help them when they enter the job market. “They come with experience.”

The App Factory started almost five years ago and already former students have gone on to work for companies like Microsoft and Motorola. They’ve partnered with the cities of Racine and Kenosha, along with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, TriCore, Wisconsin Gateway Technical Radio and UW-Parkside Parking.

One of the most popular apps designed at the App Factory was the transit app for Bell Urban System called Mobile Transit Solutions which debuted in Kenosha and Racine last year for those who use public transportation. The app currently contains the schedules, routes and locations of bus stops.

The students are currently planning on updating the app which would allow users to track buses in real time based on the GPS position on the smartphone or if the user scans the QR code at the stop.

“Cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles they already have multimillion-dollar systems that do this, but Kenosha doesn’t,” said Tim Knautz, director of the App Factory. “(Kenosha and Racine) don’t have the resources to pay for one of these multimillion-dollar systems.”

Although computer science majors make up most of the membership, there some business, communication and graphic design majors.

“If a project comes in that requires chemistry, we can certainly find a chemistry student to bring in and become a member, a paid intern at the App Factory,” Knautz said. “These projects are real. They are real projects with community partners … the money that the students earn come from the paid clients.”

Knautz said the price the App Factory charges varies depending on each project, however, they do charge $30 per hour — “which is a fifth (of the cost) to have this done in the commercial environment.”

But making a lot of money — although on the minds of all the students — isn’t the main priority of the place.

“We can’t have students failing their classes because they’re working in the App Factory,” Knautz said. “This is about their education. They can’t spend 40 hours in here then fail their math class.”

Knautz said he’s constantly looking for people, especially women and minorities, to be a part of the App Factory.

“The computer industry in general, especially in the programming area, is lacking I think, in females and minorities. There’s no doubt about that,” Knautz said. “While I’m sensitive to that and I’m constantly looking for roles like that, if I have a minority or a woman that’s coming through and can make it here, I will for sure make sure that she’s in here.”

Already the App Factory has their first return customer, Bradley Corp., which works in industrial plumbing and also designs bathrooms using various faucets and tiles.

The first app designed for Bradley Corp. was aimed at helping their sales force while they were with clients or at conferences.

“It allows you to compare two tiles side by side,” Kyle Zawacki, senior, said. “So instead of actually carrying the heavy tiles or a book with you, you can catalog into this app.”

Currently the App Factory is working on what they call the “Bradley Audit App.”

“(Bradley Corp.) hires auditors to go to facilities that have some sort of hazards,” Zawacki said, adding that the current process has individuals record issues on paper. “They could take a picture of each (piece of) equipment, add comments … so it removes the process of having to take the paper and go to the web tool and type it all in afterwards. They just do it once on the app.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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