Institute students are 'app'-lied learners

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Institute of Technology students learn mobile app development by getting their feet wet at a coding workshop hosted by Microsoft and through internships at Pierce County.

Pierce County IT staff mentor Jared Erickson and UW Tacoma intern Sean Grady test an application.Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Taking that maxim to heart, students at UW Tacoma’s Institute of Technology are learning about mobile app development by getting their feet wet.

And, true to UW Tacoma’s mission as an urban-serving university, the South Sound community is seeing immediate benefits.

The Institute and Microsoft are hosting a one-day free on-campus app development workshop at which student programmers will build apps requested by community partners from the military, the arts and the small business sector. The workshop is on January 31, at William Philip Hall, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“App” is the trendy shortening of the word “application,” and usually means a software program designed to be used online or on mobile devices.

UW Tacoma’s expanding Institute of Technology plays a key role in local app development, training and credentialing software developers who understand the intersection of operating systems with online protocols and mobile-friendly user interfaces.

The partnership with Microsoft means students get access to high-end smartphones still in the development pipeline, with features not yet on the market. Microsoft gets a chance to evangelize its Windows Phone platform to up-and-coming developers and gets a close-up view of the talent coming out of UW Tacoma.

“We’ve got 150 participants expected at our workshop,” said Institute of Technology industry liaison Andrew Fry. “We really do expect to get a bunch of useful mobile apps created in just one day. Code-a-thons like this aren’t uncommon, but I haven’t seen anyone do it with participation from community institutions like the military and artists, the way we’re going to do it.”

In addition to coding workshops, UW Tacoma has partnered with Pierce County to provide students with real-world experience. This is not a typical internship where students work on routine tasks. Each intern works closely with a mentor to design, build and launch a mobile app. The work of these students helps the county keep pace with technology changes while expanding service delivery.  Meanwhile, students gain a competitive career edge while serving their community.

Interns have built popular public apps such as MyVote, which allows local voters to check their registration status, view sample ballots and find the nearest ballot drop-off box. Others help Pierce County departments improve delivery of services, such as an emergency services app that allows first-responders to speed up the reporting of incident location and details.

“Our intern partnership with UW Tacoma and other local colleges is a win-win. The students get an advantage in the job market and we get top-flight, home-grown talent to build technology solutions,” said Linda Gerull, director of the Pierce County IT Department.

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / January 30, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications,, 253-692-4536