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Is there an app for that? If not, make it yourself at the newly opened App Lab


Photo courtesy of: Manuel Cabrejos 

Senior computer science major  Grant Miller and first-year computer science major Daniel Manila work together on a project in UNC's app lab. 

The UNC App Lab is officially open for public use beginning this semester. Located in Sitterson Hall Room 027, the lab is a collaborative space for students to practice building web and mobile apps. 

With a goal of connecting those who want to learn about programming with those who need help bringing their app ideas to life, the App Lab can accommodate a wide range of skill levels, experiences and needs. 

“I want the App Lab people to serve the University as a whole by finding those needs out there, where people have some software or some need for an app that could make their lives easier, and then write the app and serve Carolina and our area that way,” said Jeff Terrell, the creator of the App Lab and a professor in the Department of Computer Science.

Terrell and his staff of five undergraduate students want to increase app building on campus by fostering a relaxed and welcoming environment in the lab. Their services are available to students, faculty and organizations within and outside of the computer science department. 

When working with clients, the App Lab staff will help determine if an idea is possible and what potential steps need to be involved in producing the app. Then, they will try to match the client with a programmer who can help. 

“It’s a bit unique that we have the goal of connecting computer science students and non-computer science students,” said Daniel Manila, a first-year working for the lab. “The App Lab is very accessible. Our goal is really just to help you and provide a space for you to do as much as you can.”

Currently, the App Lab is working on two main projects. One of the in-progress apps is called ‘Clem: the Clojure Error Mediator.’ This software helps translate error messages in Clojure programming language into beginner-friendly terms. As a result, programmers can read and understand errors more efficiently, Manila said. The second project involves developing software for the Department of Radiology. This project analyzes the department's lab data. 

The undergraduate staffers are also working on some of their own project ideas, as well. For instance, junior Manuel Cabrejos is considering building a Facebook clone. As someone who has always been interested in how social networks function, Cabrejos hopes to rebuild Facebook, Twitter or some other social media site.

To facilitate these different projects and collaborations, the App Lab is equipped with three pairing stations, which include a monitor and electrical desk suited for two people, Terrell said. These pairing stations are intended to encourage programmers to work together on tasks. The lab also features a treadmill desk and a large conference table for meetings.  

Students interested in working with the App Lab can stop by on weekday afternoons during the lab’s open hours, which are posted on its website. To program with the team, Terrell recommends that students have basic programming experience, such as the skills taught in COMP110: Intro to Programming. 

However, anyone who has a desire to learn about programming is welcome, Terrell said. The App Lab offers opportunities to programmers, graphic designers and entrepreneurs alike.

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