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By Lesa Bressanelli

“A while ago our group was in Charlotte looking for a place to eat and joked about, ‘what if there could be a Tinder for restaurants,’” said Prince Ahmed, ’24, a Duke computer science major. They were looking for a place that would suit everyone’s dietary needs and that would serve them in a particular time frame. For Ahmed, a newly declared computer science major, it was an intriguing problem.

“I thought about it seriously,” said Ahmed, who developed problem solving and app building skills during Duke’s Code+ program last summer. The 10-week program gave him the confidence to become a computer science major. And now the experience was helping him plan his spring semester.

To develop the ‘Tinder for restaurants’ app, Ahmed decided to do an independent study with his Code+ team lead and mentor, Mark McCahill, an IT Systems Architect in Duke’s Office of Information Technology. His goal is to make it easier to search for restaurants by inputting variables such as dietary needs and time slots, while being able to share up to 10 restaurant options with five people. Working on this project has required Ahmed to get out of his comfort zone and lean on what he learned during Code+.

“The technology Prince is using in his independent study project is new to him: an iPhone app written in Swift that talks to a Ruby-on-Rails REST web services SQL database backend, but the approaches we cover in Code+ can give students the confidence and tools to take on and succeed at new challenges,” McCahill said.

Code+ introduces undergraduate students to the latest leading-edge industry technologies and tools in a peer learning environment while also providing professional development opportunities.

“I was unsure whether I would enjoy computer science and the only experiences I’d had so far were through classes, so I wanted to see what it would be like to work on a team as a software engineer,” Ahmed said. “Code+ seemed like a good next step to figure things out.”

Participating in Code+

During the summer of 2022, Ahmed and his team members used machine learning and language processing techniques to create a product for Duke’s Office of Research and Innovation. This project, “Using ML/NLP to Identify Relationships and Similarities in Grant Proposal Texts,” was able to identify semantic similarities in grant proposal tags, for a database with more than 4,500 submissions to identify whether there were similar or duplicate grant applications.

Weekly talks from visiting professionals such as software engineers, project managers and user experience specialists helped Ahmed and his Code+ cohort better understand the kinds of career paths they could pursue.

“They helped you better understand the sphere of software engineering as they described what they did, and that exposure really helped me better understand what is available,” Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, the group learned about coding languages, key concepts of project management, and how to give professional presentations, critical skills Ahmed feels will serve him well.

“If you are in the same scenario thinking of computer science as a career, I think this program is good in helping you figure that out,” Ahmed said. “It gives you a software development experience where you work on a project with team members and can feel supported.”

Nearly a year after his Code+ experience, Ahmed is using the skills he learned during Code+ for his independent study. Connecting with McCahill and Robert Duval, a lecturer of computer science at Duke, Ahmed hopes to have a viable product to present by the end of the semester.

Using technology to address everyday problems, Ahmed imagines the bigger applications that his project could have in the future, while excited to see where his newfound skills can take him.

“The test-driven, incremental development process he learned in Code+ is applicable across the IT field,” McCahill said. “Because Code+ is a 10 week project, this scale of experience is not something that most undergrads have early in their studies.”

Interested in building your own skills in coding and software development? Learn more about the Code+ summer program.