The Download: Feature Articles
Coding at Work: Students Take the Lead in Creating Apps for NYU
By Nicolas Lebrun | November 11, 2019
An Opportunity to Build Skills While Building Apps for Your Peers
It might come as a surprise to any students reading this that some of the NYU applications that they rely on to manage clubs, search for jobs, or find the nearest on-campus printer were developed by teams composed almost entirely of NYU students just like themselves. The Student Tech Innovation Team (STIT) is a group of approximately 15 student employees who assist with a number of NYU services, including NYU Engage, the NYU Print Service, and the Wasserman Center’s Handshake service.
“We have two programs,” explains Sarth Desai, STIT’s supervisor. “We have a software developer program and a student user experience (UX) program.”
Every two weeks, Desai gathers both teams together to share what they’re working on, get feedback from each other about their projects, and talk about new ideas. When a potential service improvement opportunity or unmet community need is brought to the group’s attention, Desai encourages everyone to speak up and brainstorm a new app that could fill the gap.
Find My Club, an application that acts as a virtual club fair, is a perfect example of an application that was built by students from the ground up. “NYU Club Fest only happens once a semester, and most of the students have class,” Desai explains. To allow for more student-club interaction, Desai asked his team to bounce around ideas to see if they could come up with a solution.
Hyo Im, a senior at NYU’sTisch School of the Arts and a UX designer in the STIT group, was involved in working on Find My Club in its early stages. She recalls “interviewing [students] in terms of why [they] might need the application, if it is even a necessary solution, if it’s an app that students want, and how they feel towards it in relation to NYU Engage.” These types of contributions were the first steps in the months-long development and design process that included extensive prototyping and multiple rounds of feedback, eventually leading to the app’s launch last October.
Find My Club is just one of many apps the team has had the opportunity to design and implement on a University-wide scale. “It definitely feels nice when you see what you’ve developed is in the public being used by thousands of students,” said Abhilash Kulkarni, a second-year grad student at the Tandon School of Engineering and a developer in the STIT group.
The sense of pride isn’t the only perk to working with STIT. There’s also the opportunity to develop skills essential to success in the job market. “I can choose the technologies that I want to work on,” Abhilash described. “You put them on your resume, people find out, and you land a job. I landed my internship because of the skills I picked up working here.” Preparing these students for the job market isn’t just a natural by-product of their work, it’s something that’s valued and emphasized by NYU IT employees, STIT, and other students.
“About five years ago the Mayor of New York came out with a 20-year projection predicting 26% growth in technology and technology-related work,” explained Meenakshi Baker, the Assistant Vice President of Operations Technology and Support Services. “And out of that 26%, less than 2% were actually local graduates.”
Baker and others at NYU IT viewed this as an opportunity to develop students’ skills and prepare them for the job market. This has led to an effort on NYU IT’s part to actively tailor the jobs they’re offering to fit the types of positions a graduate would be applying for. This means not only building students’ responsibilities or having them work with specific tools but often creating new projects for them to work on.
When Baker noticed that skills in 3D-modeling were in demand, she came up with a project where students would model the NYU residence halls and other buildings to make their layout accessible online. These types of projects have led to a 100% job placement rate for STIT students, according to Baker. “When our students leave here, if they worked as a designer, they get a job as a designer.”
“When I came here [NYU] and started applying to different internships, I didn’t have STIT on my resume and most of the time I got a rejection,” recalls Rahul Deshpande, a second-year grad student at Tandon. “When I joined here [STIT] and put STIT on my resume, I started getting calls and I landed my internship.”
The value Desai, Baker, and their colleagues place on students’ ideas and contributions and investment in their future helps create a friendly, tight-knit team. As Hyo summarizes, “I personally really love it here and I feel like, for a lot of the students, we’re like a little family.”