According to the three young men who sit in the C-suite at San Antonio’s Apps for Aptitude, software programming is something everyone should learn while in middle school, right alongside algebra, the periodic table of elements and the dwindling art of diagramming sentences.
After all, CEO Joshua Singer, COO Abhinav Suri and CIO Canzhi Ye all started programming when they were in middle school. They’re now well on their way to adulthood (Singer and Suri are juniors in high school, while Ye is a senior), and they’re using their knowledge and experience to inspire other young people to change the world through technological prowess.
Singer is credited with coming up with the initial idea for Apps for Aptitude – a non-profit business that encourages young people to code.
The company’s bylaws state that the purpose of the organization is “to spread scientific education, create educational software, and donate to improve education across the globe.” To this end, the organization will use social media and school-based events to spread the word about the importance of scientific education and encourage young people to learn how to program computer software. At the same time, the Apps for Aptitude team hopes to set an example by creating their own educational programs for mobile devices and selling them to the general public in the iOS App Store and on Android devices.
Ye developed the first program the group will release, called Cards for a Cause. Available soon for iPhones and Android devices, the app will allow users to create virtual flashcards by uploading spreadsheets filled with whatever content they choose.
“The content is pushed straight to the application, and you’ll be able to practice working through your cards,” Suri says. “Everything is on your phone and you don’t have to carry around 300 cards anymore.”
Students will also be able to search for flashcards others have uploaded, to find and share study tools with anyone, anywhere.
The money the company gains by selling its apps will go right back into the community, in an effort to increase reading literacy in San Antonio. The city ranks seventh in population in the U.S., but comes in just 60th in literacy, according to the U.S. Census. Since the company was formed just this summer, Apps for Aptitude has not released numbers on its performance so far, but Singer hopes the group will be able to donate 1,000 books to the San Antonio school district after the first year of business.
Suri is certain that anyone who tries can get into software coding. “There are a lot of misconceptions about how hard programming is, and it’s not that hard,” he says.
“Programming is such a useful skill,” Singer says. “Today with all the technology that’s burgeoning, people need to understand how it works – even if it’s just the basics.”
For these three, books and websites provided the means to get the hang of coding, a hobby they all pursued out of curiosity and a desire to reverse engineer the technology that was available to them at the time.
“I was in love with the idea of software,” Singer says of his introduction into computer science. “I had gotten my first computer and wanted to see what it was like to program. I read a couple of books and jumped on a couple of sites that had been created. I would try something, then add to it and then add to that to create something else.”
Singer’s former classmate Suri agrees. “I think that’s how a lot of programmers start,” he said. “I learned in eighth grade for a school project. I worked on a site template first and it looked like it was from a site template. From there, I looked at the code and plunged into the world of HTML tutorials.”
Ye specializes as the mobile developer for Apps for Aptitude, so it’s unsurprising that he was inspired to learn coding as soon as he got his hands on a tablet. “I was 13 and my parents got me an iPad for Christmas. I started wondering who made these apps I kept playing with and so I learned about developer programs.”
The three aren’t alone in their desire to create new programs – it’s a rewarding field that holds interest for many people. But where they differ is in their desire to share their love of coding with other young people, especially high school students.
A penchant for collaboration is part of the motivation for everything the principals of Apps for Aptitudes do. To promote their business and spread the word about their mission, next summer they plan on holding what they hope will be the largest high school hack-a-thon ever. A hack-a-thon is an event that is currently more popular on college campuses than at the high school level, where programmers come together in a collaborative workspace to learn, work and make connections with others who share their interests.
“There are a lot of stereotypes in programming – like a shortage of women and the idea that you have to be super smart to learn to program, and the idea that
programmers aren’t collaborative,” Singer says. “So we’re going to put something together in San Antonio and Texas to get rid of the stereotypes.”
The event will feature speakers who will have something to offer everyone, no matter if they are new to computer programming or not.
“We’ll have different divisions based on the amount of experience,” Ye says. “We want to make sure it’s a collaborative environment.”
The three are already learning the importance of making contacts in the business world, and they plan on using their contacts while simultaneously starting a grassroots movement to get the word out about their mission.
“We’re contacting people at the top of technology companies who can help us and support us and who have influence in the technology sphere and can spread the word,” Singer says.
Singer, Suri and Ye fell into their roles at Apps for Aptitude without struggle. Singer was the man with the vision, which secured his spot at CEO.
“I like the idea of maintaining oversight of the organization as its leader,” Singer says of his position.
Suri took the COO position and built Apps for Aptitude’s well-oiled website, while the pair found Ye via a Facebook ad and brought him on board to serve as CIO and the group’s mobile app developer. At the same time, the team remains flexible as to workload.
“Nobody is locked into a role, but our titles describe where we fit best,” Suri says.
Apps for Aptitude already has a solid footing in San Antonio’s up-and-coming tech culture. The 80/20 Foundation, a group that gives grants to San Antonio non-profits that promote tech education, serves as a mentor organization for the young entrepreneurs and FreeFlow Research, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a strong group of science, technology, engineering and mathematics entrepreneurs in the Alamo city, has stepped in as a fiscal supporter of the group.
The three teammates also look to other local businesses working to increase the amount of tech companies in the area, including Geekdom, a collaborative working space for techies. Currently, they’re enjoying watching the tech environment in San Antonio and across Texas grow, something they hope will continue as they continue on their careers and educational journeys.
“Texas is a great state, especially for the tech economy,” Singer says. “It’s still underdeveloped and there are many initiatives that could be started to bring in more jobs.”
“There’s a shrinking middle class across the country and people are moving here because it’s much more affordable to live,” Ye adds. “We have the advantage of having new residents and we should be putting money into education and into growing technology and entrepreneurship to create more jobs.”
One of the biggest trends as millennials enter the work force and found companies is their desire to give back to the community, and the young men behind Apps for Aptitude are no exception.
Singer was also working on becoming an Eagle Scout when he learned to code, something that made the decision to give away his earnings a simple one.
“I knew the community could benefit,” he says. “Since there are not enough programmers in San Antonio, I knew that helping was coming from my heart.”
Ye designed a few profitable apps before joining Apps for Aptitude, but he had also been struck by the urge to lend a hand. “In 2011, when the earthquake happened in Japan, I donated a couple of weeks of my profits for relief,” he says. “I’ve always thought of this skill as something to use to help others, and this was a great opportunity.”
Suri is right on board with this philosophy. “When I create a website, I don’t expect anything in return,” he says. “Being proud of my work is enough, and if it benefits the community, that’s a plus.”
College plans are still on the semi-distant horizon for juniors Singer and Suri, but in the fall, Ye will be pursuing degrees in computer science and business. From there, he hopes to continue his work in tech entrepreneurship.
In the meantime, the trio are preparing for their future moves by mentoring younger programmers and entrepreneurs to move up and take their places so that Apps for Aptitude can continue to grow and benefit the community.
It’s this discipline and the drive to do good that will keep these three thriving as they grow and continue each on their own into the tech field. It’s hard to imagine that the future doesn’t look incredibly bright for Singer, Suri and Ye.
Reflecting on the company’s mission, Suri quotes Gandhi’s famous line, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and adds “that’s what Apps for Aptitude is . . . we want to be that change in the world.”