(Summer ’11) Thiago Vieira ’13
Thiago Vieira, part of The Indian Mobile Initiative team, traveled to India this summer to use mobile technology to encourage social enterprise in college students.
At a lot of points this summer, when we as a group would spend hours dealing with logistical, policy, or communication issues, it was easy to get frustrated and disillusioned. But every time, with a big thanks to Kyle and Aakriti’s endless energy and enthusiasm, we would preserve through the challenge and do the best we could with the available resources. (It really made me appreciate the absolutely amazing infrastructure we have here at MIT.) In the end, I feel that’s what mattered and defined our program. The amount of people we were able to reach with the mobile bootcamps and the amazing mobile applications that came out of Founder’s Journey really go to show that.
The Indian Mobile Initiative has a solid base to go build off of. From the five week program, we have apps made by our students to be released to the Google App Market. We made solid partnerships with Google India to get software support, communication with engineers and future funding. By partnering up with MentorEdge in India, we were able to get a vast network of Indian professionals that our students could use for contacts and advice. But ultimately, the apps that our students have made will have a significant impact on all of those that use it. With the second half of the program, we were planning on reaching around 600-800 students but by the end of the mobile bootcamps we had reached closer to 2400 students. The feedback from each school after the bootcamps were over was so positive that they all asked us to come back and host a longer program. I think it goes to show that our curriculum of technical and social entrepreneurship skills is something in great need in India. After hosting these workshops we really got people thinking about how to help their community and gave them some tools and resources to do so. I can’t wait to see how the program goes forward.
Looking back at the world and my place in it, this summer completely changed the way I think about how to get things done. At MIT, and in general the way I approached problems before, was just from a technical side. If I know how to fix a problem, I can show you that I know how to fix it and if its better than any other way to fix the problem, I should be set. Everyone should clamor to my idea, my fix. Except the world doesn’t work this way. It’s all about implementation, believing in your idea, and being enthusiastic about your idea. Its about going after what you believe in with 110% of what you have. Its about the human side of whatever you are trying to do can often make a much bigger difference than tools or money. It made me understand what it means when people say “You have to be the change you want to see in the world” to get things done.
SRM – Our first bootcamp!
SRM, located in the outskirts of Chennai, was the first university we held our Mobile Bootcamp in. Since it was our first time, we still had to work out a few kinks with the registration and crowd control…
Pretty crazy huh? Response was totally not a problem. We had more than a thousand people interested in coming, but due to space constraints, could only take four hundred and fifty. Once we got everyone up and running, we were able to split the students up into two groups, with I taking the technical side, Aakriti taking entrepreneurship and Kyle helping out in-between us two. The lectures and activities went by fine, with a few bumps due to rooming and registration, but overall we covered what we need to get covered. By the end of the three dayst I was glad to have made a difference and got some students interested in Android!
VIT – Amazing Reception!!!
Next on our tour was VIT, about a three hour drive from SRM, pretty close by. While SRM was almost in Chennai, VIT was basically the entire city of Velore, so campus had a very different feel to it.
VIT was definitely the best workshop of the summer, hands down. We had an amazing reception by the Vice Chancellor of the school; we got a tour of the school and even got to go the roof of the tallest building to see the entire campus. But what really counted was the help we got in the logistics behind the workshop. While I talked mostly about the material we covered the three days, the majority of the time spent on the ground at each college was running around campus advertising and trying to reserve rooms and resources to make sure it went smoothly. This is where the Vice Chancellor helped us out so much by getting us in touch with the right people. There was also a student group at VIT whose job was just to help people plan technical events! It made setting up registration, advertising, and distributing the software a breeze with the help of twenty students who had already done something like it. Due to larger rooms, we were able to top SRM and reach a total of six hundred students, quite awesome.
On top of all this, the workshop went smoothly, and we had several promising groups that started working on their applications by the end of the workshop. It was a great time, there was even an article written about us in the Chennai Times! Before we left, the vice chancellor extended an invitation for us to return and give a longer workshop during the winter term. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better.
Manipal – Just the hardcore students
Before we got to Manipal, we took a short hop back to Hyderabad, and gave a presentation at the Indian School of Business. It was pretty low pressure, but energetic, environment and we had some good discussions on mobile applications with the students there.
VIT spoiled us however, and Manipal was quite a challenge in getting facilities and students to attend due to various different policies at the university. Nevertheless, we continued on with workshop, squeezing it into two days instead of three, and dealing with a total of about two hundred students. Lets say it made answering technical questions a lot easier when you had fewer students to deal with, and it was nice to get be able to interact on a more personal level with students. It was also quite cool to see a student come back on day two and show me a graphing calculator he made as an app overnight. While not as big as we hoped, we still got our message out to the campus and had a smaller, more hardcore group of students attend.
Bits Hyderabad – Wrapping it all up.
Coming back to where we arrived, Hyderabad was our last workshop. And here, we didn’t just go big, we went huge. After conducting three workshops, we had the procedure of what we had to do down, and just went to town. We had around nine hundred students come for the workshop; it was quite amazing to be able to be able to completely FILL a large lecture room, it was quite the way to end the summer. We literally had more than 15% of campus attending our sessions, pretty amazing. On top of that, the student teams here were the most prepared by the end of the three days, showing solid progress on coding and not only practicing their pitches for the final day, but having props, videos and PowerPoint’s to go along with them. This workshop also came with my favorite idea for the summer, an app that lets you charge your phone from your friends. Even though this faces a lot of challenges, their implementation was quite original, if not a bit futuristic.
It was also nice to end the summer by doing IMI right down to the wire. We hosted our last workshop in the evening, from 5-8PM, getting back to Aakriti’s house in Hyderabad at 9PM, only to have to leave for the airport at 1:30AM to head back to the States.
Phase 2 – Mobile Bootcamps!!!
Now starts phase two of our program: spreading the word! Flying directly from Ahemnabad, we went to Chennai. (Chennai is HUGE, by the way. On the first day we arrived, we had to pick up T-shirts and supplies from the middle of the city, and it was a one hour train ride to get from one side of the city to the other, just straight people and buildings the entire time.) Here, we would be hosting our first mobile workshop, but before I get ahead of myself, let me give a quick review of how these are going to work.
The concept of the mobile bootcamps came from us wanting to reach out to more of the community and get students interested in starting up an IMI like club at their school. The idea is to have a community of students that could work together to build these applications, and that can use each other, students from other schools, and the mentors from IIM as a support network on their quest to be budding entrepreneurs.
Breaking it down, the program was pretty straightforward.
Introduction: Here, we go over what we will be covering over the next 3 days, as well as some ground rules to make sure the crowd wouldn’t get too rowdy (we would have 100-400 people in a room). It was also a bit of a pep talk for them not to get discouraged, as we would cover a lot of technical and business stuff very fast the next few days, so we needed everyone to stay on top of their game and pay attention.
Day 1: Technical Introduction
Everyone in the bootcamp was asked to bring a laptop. In three hours, we would get everyone up and running with Android and making a simple program. We would start by distributing DVD’s full of software needed to program in Android – Eclipse, Java SDK, Android SDK, and AppInventor. While students were transferring and installing the files, I would be lecturing on some of the fundamentals of the Android architecture and handle some common setup errors people would have.
Before we started to code in Android, I would demo something called AppInventor, a project started here at MIT by Professor Hal Abelson. It’s a great program to make simple, but powerful, Android apps with no coding experience. It’s a fantastic introduction to learn about some of the more powerful features Android has to offer, and to be able to program it in a few hours instead of a few weeks. The downside however is it required the internet to use, which was something that simply wasn’t usually available to everyone in the lecture halls.
The last half of the technical sessions would be an explanation of how to make a simple “Hello World” app, as well as how to make user interfaces, quite a lot to cover in such a short time.
Day 2: Ideation
The goal of this day would be to get students excited about making their own app, as well as a plan to make and market it. The session would start off with an overview of some cool Apps out in the Android marketplace, as well as some background numbers on mobile in India. We would move on how to analyze and build from an idea to actually deploying it.
Next, we would ask everyone to break up into groups, give them some chart paper, and have them brainstorm ideas that could help their community. It was a very high energy affair, and everyone had a lot of fun with it, occasionally coming up with some pretty crazy ideas just for fun.
We would wrap up by showing some MIT 100k Pitch videos, as well just some general presentation tips. And then we would tell them to practice up for tomorrow….
Day 3: Pitches, and final technical overview.
The last session would generally be split into two parts. One half would be student groups of 10-25 giving a one minute pitch to the class about their idea. Afterward, they would have to answer questions about how the implementation and specifics of their ideas from the audience. It was quite an intense experience, with the students in the audience really grilling those who were on stage. I feel like the students really learned a lot about selling their idea, as well as how to be convincing to their peers who knew just as much if not more than them.
The second half (or sometimes the first half) would consist of wrapping up the technical aspects of android. After going over a broad overview of the platform on the first day, we would delve deeper into using the specific features of the phones such as the camera, GPS, or custom graphics with as much as time would allow. With this overview, and pointing the students to a few resources they could use to learn more on the internet, we gave them the tools to be full fledged Android programmers.
By the end of the three days, all three of us were utterly exhausted. Not only did we have three days of work, but the day before the workshop we would be running around campus advertising, setting up the rooms we were lecturing in, and clearing everything with the administration. But I need to make a big shout out to all the students that were IMI helpers at these sessions, who worked behind the scenes to make sure all three days happened flawlessly. It would have been impossible without them, having another twenty hands at each university made all the difference in crowd control, registration, and answering technical questions.
Before we start phase two of IMI, we took a short stop at Ahemnabad, a major Business School in India. We were invited to talk about our experiences at the five week session we gave, as well as mobile technology in general. It was a very different audience – college MBA students instead of software engineers – but they were very interested in learning about the applications that came out as well as approaches and ideas to entrepreneurship in the mobile sphere.
Overall, it was very helpful in spreading the word about our organization and branching out. We met some amazing people, and more importantly, tapped into a vast group of Indian professionals interested in social entrepreneurship that we could team up with. Partnering up with a program called Mentor Edge, we will get access to hundreds of professionals in the mobile sphere that can talk about their past experiences and give advice. A very productive trip.
What an amazing five weeks
These past five weeks have gone by in a blur. After many long nights preparing labs and slides in the beginning to helping people out with their code near the end, the saga has ended. Looking back it was quite amazing to see how far people progressed – from just learning Android to producing their own application on it. But far more than that, Kyle and Aakriti also did an amazing job of teaching them that making the application was just one part of the whole picture. You need to pair up with the community, talk to the people who will be using your application, and be able to communicate your idea with others. All these things sound so straightforward, but to a group of hardcore engineers, its not so simple. That’s why the difference between the presentations given out in the first week and last week were so incredible to see.
In terms of their final projects, the students came up with some pretty innovative ideas. They had the last 2-3 weeks to brainstorm the final idea they wanted to work on, and then had to quickly implement it. Their actual applications were still a little rough around the edges, but the core functionality was there, they just might needed to run it through a few more tests to weed out some bugs.
The last day, as outlined in the course outline, was the final competition between all the teams for $5,000 of seed funding. Teams were judged on their progress with their application, the feasibility of their idea, and their need for seed funding. Due to the conversion factor to Indian Rupees, $5,000 was a lot of money so teams were pretty motivated and excited to win. Below are the winning teams, with screenshots of their applications.
Quibble Grand Winner
Idea: What happens when you get faulty products from a hardware store, or can’t get government papers due to bad municipal offices? Can’t do much, but complain, and hopefully get heard by the right people. Quibble takes pictures and complaints from the end user, moderates them, then reposts them on relevant websites for consumer complaints all over India to get your voice heard.
Kickstart Runner Up
Idea: Don’t we all like watching soccer? (Ok, maybe I am biased, I am Brazilian). Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in India, and Kickstart hopes to capitalize on this growing trend by offering users live streaming updates of soccer matches.
BookVook Runner Up
Idea: College textbooks are expensive. In India, you have few choices to buy them but small retailers for a high price. BookVook taps into the local college community by allowing local students post their books online just by taking a picture of its barcode. Younger students can then browse the books and buy it second-hand.
SocialMe Seed Funding
Idea: What inspired this application was when the group of students went out to eat dinner, and noticed a eleven-year old busboy. What could they do to help him out they thought? Using augmented reality on a mobile phone, they developed an application that lets users tag what they see. Once something gets tagged enough times, a donation or a NGO gets involved to help fix the problem.
BloodDrive Seed Funding
Idea: Everywhere in the world, blood donors are needed. The BloodDrive application hopes to make this process easier by more users into a central database so that people who need Blood can contact people who are willing to donate in cases of emergencies. Not only featuring an intuitive interface incorporating Google maps and search, they are working on integrating different blood banks databases together to be more effective
TariffGuru Best User Interface and Code Design
Idea: The vast majority of Indian mobile plans are on a prepaid basis, with more than 40 carriers, each offering more than 40 different plans. How do you know which one is right for you? By analyzing the call usage on the phone, this application computes what’s the best plan for you – something no other app on the market currently does. When the group surveyed out to the local community, some people spend up to 20% of their monthly income on mobile phones, so a plan to save them money could make a real difference.
Boomerang Best User Interface and Code Design
Idea: Doesn’t everyone take lots of pictures? And isn’t it annoying uploading it to all those different sites? Boomerang simplifies your life by allowing you with the swipe of a finger to upload your pictures, files or movies to multiple social websites like facebook, twitter, dropbox and more.
Guest Blogger Divya Saini!
At the end of the five week program, I asked one of our TA’s if she could blog about her experience of going through IMI. She did an amazing job of helping students and keeping morale up, especially when teams had to work through the night. Below is her account of IMI, and what we did the last two weeks of the program.
This summer the Indian mobile initiative a.k.a IMI was conducted in our campus! It infused practical knowledge in Android and entrepreneurship into the minds of aspiring developers over five weeks. (but what felt like one year). A whole new legion of android enthusiasts were excited by the deeds of Aakriti Shroff, Thiago Vieira and Kyle Fisher. They did what everyone thought was improbable. Not only did they teach android and entrepreneurship effectively but the exposure and environment provided by them meant really helped everyone personally grow over the time.
It all began with my course “Software Development for Portable Devices (SDPD)” last semester in school. I was fascinated by the concept that users can create mobile applications on their own using Java, so I was very excited about the course. It went really well… By the middle of the course, I had got the feeling that “Hey! This is what I have been looking for. This is something which I feel passionate about! It’s not something which I have to code monotonously.. making an end product was really satisfying” So from that moment on I decided to do my summer internship in some android firm.
And soon after, our professor announced in class about IMI, that it’s going to be held in our campus and they need TAs for the workshop. It was a dream come true! I applied and got accepted, and that’s how IMI started for me.
For a lot of students, the fourth week was a turning point for them and the IMI program. At the beginning of this week Mr. Sanjay Sinvhyal (a mentor from the telecommunications field) came from Wipro. During his 3 days stay in Goa he sat with each group and discussed their ideas and gave wonderful suggestions, he also gave some brilliant ideas of new apps. In the second half of the week, two other mentors came in – Aditi Gupta from IIM Ahemdabad and Akshat Rathee, a wonderful entrepreneur running his own company. All the teams presented their elevator pitches in front of the three Judges- Aditi Gupta, Akshat Rathee and Sanjay Sinvhyal. This was the day since when a lot changed for most of the teams, everybody was simply mesmerized by the brilliant comments of Mr. Akshat Rathee and his knowledge. Though after this presentation many of the teams were totally disheartened by the harsh but true comments by the judges. But still nobody gave up, and everybody stayed in for the race till the last day and worked harder and harder, this courage was really appreciable. Over the weekend members of all the teams sat in for some late hours in the lab to complete their apps. The dedication and hard work was commendable for coming in on the weekend.
The Final Week
This week Mr. Shashank Gupta came again from IIM Ahmedabad for giving last minute suggestions to all the teams. Kyle and Thiago also divided the teams among themselves to regularly monitor their work. Aakriti gave lectures on how to give the final presentation, the Do’s and the Don’ts and most importantly boosted their confidence. On the last night before competition me and Aakriti, Kyle and Thiago, all of us were awake till early morning hours helping teams in their presentations and finals changes in code or GUI. It was really an amazing experience to help such dedicated teams. The next marked the arrival of some judges. Of note was a professor from my college itself – Dr. Shikha Sahay, and also we had Mr. Sanjay Gupta an IIT Delhi passout – CEO of Mobisolv.
During the last day of presentations, each group competed for seed funding, from a pot of $5,000. First, all the teams gave slide presentations about their apps and then after lunch each demonstrated their apps to Mr. Rajdeep Dua from Google and then to the judges. Then after two long hours results were announced. IMI divided the dollar amount among the teams depending on the funding they will be needing for the implementation of their app and their applications. Quibble got $2,000, Kickstart and BookWook got $1,000 dollars each, BloodDrive and SocialMe got $500.
This summer has been a tremendous experience. The knowledge of the IMI instructors in the field of computers and management science was simply amazing. The entire program was the experience of a lifetime. Thanks for reading my blog post, and thanks to Thiago and Udit Gupta for all the help.
The long haul
The third week of the program has been a long one, with us finally finishing up some more advanced Android topics such as threading and syncing applications to an online database. Aakriti and Kyle also gave out some fun assignments on how to design good user interfaces for Android phones, as well as more business topics and presentation guidelines. My favorite topic this week was about designing modular code (nerdy I know, but hey, I go to MIT), which will greatly help out the students when they have to work in teams to produce their own applications, as well as produce less bugs (hopefully). Below are some diagrams from a design assignment given out.
Near the end of the week though, I was a bit discouraged at the level of participation in the class. Maybe it was because the assignments were getting tougher and some students who had never seen some of the material were having a hard time. Maybe the assignments just weren’t as interesting, or I was doing a good enough job explaining the material. Either way, I was hearing back from a lot of students that they weren’t interested in finishing up the technical labs but just wanted to go straight into coding their own applications. But at the time, I didn’t see any evidence of that happening. We decide to give out an open-ended assignment for the weekend and see how the student teams do in designing their applications.
When I get back to class on Monday, I was really surprised. Students came up to me with great code designs, beautiful graphics made in Photoshop and clear work done in putting together their own mobile application. It looked like the students proved me wrong, and all that time last week that I thought they were being unproductive was actually time well-spent. I realized the goal of IMI, to inspire students to create their own mobile applications to help others, was coming to fruition. Given the right tools, resources, inspiration and some time, the IMI’ers were making amazing applications.
Week 2 Cabs… in India
If anyone has talked to anyone who has visited India, I am sure Indian cabbies were brought up during the conversation. They are an interesting breed of cab – not only do they come in all sizes, they also carry no tariff machines. Which means that if any cabbie sees me, the price will instantly double. To fix this dilemma, I whenever I go out, I make sure to hide a block away while Aakriti or some other person negotiates the cab price, and then I magically appear and get in the cab. In terms of riding inside the cabs, it is always an adventure. Sitting in the backseat of cab, I had a lizard half the size of my hand fall into my lap from the ceiling of the cab – apparently it was just there until we hit a speed bump.
In terms of the second week of the course, things are going right on track. This week has been much more intensive in the Android programming part, and I have been busy preparing material with that for most of the week. Emaad (one of the TA’s) gave a great lab on using internal phone sensors, and Rachee (another TA) had a really polished and informative lab on using GPS with Google maps. As for me, I continue on with the less exciting Android parts like intents, dialog boxes, the activity life-cycle, and more. For those not familiar with the more technical aspects, we were giving the basics on different ways to show graphics on the screen as well managing the battery on the phone – scarce resource. Kyle was right at my side helping me with all this, as well as trying to figure out some problems with setting up an SVN for the students (its proving to be a lot harder than expected). Aakriti is barging ahead with the ideation and the entrepreneurial aspect of the course and keeping the students very busy.
Overall the progress of the students is coming along well. For some who are more familiar with Java, web programming or user interface design, the material being covered is not very difficult. However, for those with less experience are very busy getting acquainted with these concepts. The students are eager to get actual applications out or use their skills besides doing the labs I give them, their chance is coming soon…
End of the first week
The first few days were very nerve racking, as it was the first time I was presenting to a class of fifty people. The focus of the first few days was to get to know everyone, give an overview of what we would be doing the next five weeks, and tell the students that we expected them to work hard. The latter end of the week was spent getting the Android and Java environment set up to start programming in and introduction to some business concepts. I feel we got across to the students,and my first impression of things in India is that the students are very respectful. We had no problems with crowd control. Also, everyone was very eager to learn, and really wanted a challenge, which is exactly what we were looking for.
Overall, it was an exciting and exhausting week. It was great to meet bright students from all over India who are excited to learn and try their hand at mobile applications this summer. Setting up shop and getting basic things working took a little bit longer (and a lot more work) than expected, but in the end we eventually got everyone’s laptop configured to run eclipse and got access to the internet for our work.
This weekend, I also went out to eat with the TA’s in the course who have been super helpful in helping the other students and keeping track of administrative tasks. I learned a lot about Indian culture and how classes are taught in India, but also ate some Indian food and was reminded of how spicy it is. It has been a running joke with the students in the class that I can’t take spicy food. Whenever I eat, I always ask for mild spicy, or not spicy. And if I forget, I get regular Indian spicy, which means halfway through my meal, my mouth is on fire and my eyes are tearing up. Funny for everyone else except me, I tell you. Anyway, the TA’s ordered something called chili and chicken (the signature dish, I assume), served on this cool looking pan. (Remember Indian food is served family style, we order dishes for the table and share) They all tell me to try it, so I just eat the first thing that my forked manage to grab when I poked my food. As I put it in my mouth, I notice everyone at the table stops, moves forward for a second, and then someone goes “how… do you like it?” And I go, “it tastes good, why is everyone looking at – OH MY GOD I ATE A CHILLI PEPPER!!!!!!!!!!!!” WHY DIDN’T YOU GUYS SAY ANYTHING?????” After I drink a liter of water and eat a bunch of naan, I sit back and laugh at myself with them. But today I learned a valuable lesson – look before you eat. Sometimes, I just get too excited about eating.
Arrival in Goa, first day of class!
I have just arrived in Goa, what a gorgeous place! (as well as very, very hot and humid). Before I go on, I should give some background on what I will be doing this summer in Goa and all around India. Below is a picture of us before we head out to teach class on the first day.
A Formal Introduction
So about two months ago, two of my best friends, Kyle Fisher and Aakriti Shroff, came up to me with an idea. They had started up a project called the Indian Mobile Initiative, to be implemented this summer. The plan was to go to India and teach mobile phone programming and social entreprenuership to Indian students. By the end of the program, we would hope to have students create applications that would help their community, and possibly make them some money as well. Sounds straightforward enough, right?
The next question was how was this going to happen? More importantly, how would we get funding? Well, they already had google signed on for $5000, next we were going to ask the MIT public service center for a summer fellowship and enter in the MIT Global Challenge to possibly win some prize money, or at least hopefully win the community votes. Their enthusiasm for the project won me over, and over the next two months we worked hard to bring the idea to fruition.
The next question I had was, what exactly would we be doing? The Indian Mobile Initiative had two main parts: Founder’s Journey, a five-week intensive crash course in Android programming and social entrepreneurship that would happen in Goa and then five workshops discussing mobile technology at different Indian Universities, that would take another month. I, as a more technically minded person, would be in charge of helping teach Android to the students as well as help in any way I could with the business aspect.
Fast forward to today, and we each got fellowship grant’s from the MIT Public Service Center, as well as won every judging contest in the MIT Global Challenge. If your interested in learning how we won the MIT Global Challenge, you should check out my post on the IMI website http://imi.mit.edu/blog/. Now, back to coding and writing up lecture slides.
The Project Starts
I have arrived in Hyderabad, India! These past few days have been a bit hectic, with all three of us running around India to get phones, poster-boards, extension cords and other supplies for the upcoming weeks. In between going from place to place, we have found the time to sit down and eat some delicious Indian food. The spices are strong at times, but overall the food is growing on me. In terms of work, nothing very exciting besides lots of Android reading and making slides. It will be exciting once we get to meet our students next week though.
Sadly, I have no pictures to upload as of yet as Aakriti’s Sony Camera broke right before we got to India. Before I finish, I want to send a big shout out to Mr. and Mrs. Aakriti who have let us stay at their house these past few days in Hyderabad and shown us around town. Pictures to come, I promise!
Testing, 1,2,3 Testing. Looks like I figured out how to post pictures as well =).