South African learners go MAD for application development

More than 50 talented learners from nine Gauteng schools competed in The Mobile Application Development (MAD) Challenge

November 26, 2012

More than 50 talented learners from nine Gauteng schools competed in The Mobile Application Development (MAD) Challenge, with Brennan Buitendag from Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz emerging as the winner in a tightly fought contest.

This competition was presented at the BlackBerry® apps lab at the University of Pretoria by the Department of Informatics. It forms part of a PhD research study on e-Skills development by Johan Breytenbach. The aim of the MAD Challenge was to encourage grade 10 and 11 learners to embrace the career choices and entrepreneurial potential of the ICT industry.

The aim of the BlackBerry apps labs is to help accelerate mobile application development in South Africa, thereby creating new economic opportunities and jobs in the mobile space, and to support the larger context and objectives of the South African Department of Communications’ (DOC) eSkills Institute.

The learners represented a wide range of demographics; representing schools as diverse as Pretoria Boys High, Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool, Hoërskool Die Wilgers, Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz, The Glen High School, Hoërskool Silverton, Hoërskool Eersterust, Pretoria Secondary School, and Bokgoni High School.

Every learner was an achiever; selected to take part in the competition based on their individual application forms and academic performance. The competition-like nature of the MAD project, together with the strict entry requirements resulted in a high calibre of entries.

The school learners were guided through the basics of BlackBerry® Java application development during six two-hour tutorials on Friday afternoons, some of which took place in the BlackBerry apps lab at the University of Pretoria.

After six weeks of tutorials and another four weeks of applying their new knowledge, 29 learners completed the 2012 MAD Challenge. The 29 learners that reached the finish line submitted 16 applications – 13 as pairs, and three as individuals.

Applications were judged on the creativity and entrepreneurial content of the idea behind the app, usability, functionality, completeness, business value motivation, and programming skill. Winning apps included apps with a strong education focus and apps that allow users to view and share socially relevant content on a geographic (GPS/map view) platform. The winners were awarded BlackBerry® PlayBook™ tablets for their work.

The first prize went to Brennan Buitendag from Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz for his Learners Test app, which prepares students to successfully pass their learner drivers tests. The second prize went to Tyler Hoffman and Unathi Chonco from Pretoria Boys High who developed the Live Music Guide app, which lets you find music gigs you are interested in and even helps to find your way to the event.

“It was very exciting to take part in the MAD Challenge,” said winner Brennan Buitendag. “It was a great opportunity and I learned a lot. I am hoping that I’ll be able to upload my app to BlackBerry App World soon and even make some money from it.”

The BlackBerry apps lab at the University of Pretoria and a second lab in Cape Town form part of Research In Motion’s (RIM) strategy to nurture a healthy BlackBerry developer ecosystem in the country. The facilities provide local developers, including students, start-ups, entrepreneurs and others, with development, marketing, sales and training resources to help them make their apps commercially successful. Students are already excelling in competitions such as Hackathons.

RIM is working with developers at both labs to create local and regionally relevant applications for BlackBerry® smartphones and the BlackBerry PlayBook, as well as for devices running the upcoming BlackBerry® 10 platform.