In our rapidly evolving technological world, new iPhones debut each year; computers are standard in business and education; complex data sets and analytics control our written and visual media. But many people don’t know the fundamental component powering the technology we use daily - coding.
Tampa teenager Lexline Johnson does.
Lexline, a self-taught 16-year-old coder and application developer, recently won tech giant Apple's Swift Student Challenge for her extensive knowledge and skill in interactive app development. The challenge is Apple's most prestigious award for teens and only a small group of students from across the world earn the honor each year.
Lexline, a student at the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, started coding two years ago after receiving her first MacBook laptop computer. Technology fascinated her, so she began to explore.
She first taught herself how to use Terminal, which is a text input and output program allowing users to enter the actual commands that a computer will process. To bolster her self-taught, hands-on experience, she began to learn programming with the assistance of online articles and courses. Through these processes, she eventually learned about iOS development - the process of making applications for Apple devices written in the Swift program language to then be developed and uploaded to Apple’s App Store for download and use.
Then, in 2020, Lexline’s initial entry into the Swift Student Challenge ignited her coding passion. The competition is an opportunity for coders age 13 and older to showcase their programming talents through app creation and implementation. Lexline viewed the competition as a way to challenge herself and see how her coding skills had progressed. She did not win in 2020 but she was motivated to continue to develop her craft and improve her results.
In Apple’s Swift Student Challenge, contestants code an application of their own design, and submit an essay in just a two-week timespan. Lexline’s fascination with another complex topic most people are not familiar with, quantum physics, inspired her app. She wanted to create a tool to educate those interested in expanding their knowledge of a subject she was passionate about and app development gave her the chance.
Her app, Quantum Entanglement, is designed for users of all ages, even though she understands that quantum physics is not an easy topic to grasp. But that was exactly her reason for developing it. The user experience begins with a question: “How exactly does quantum physics work and how does it differ from regular physics?”
The app is formatted like a book and offers interactive examples. Text and visuals guide the reader through the concept of quantum entanglement. The app then begins to dissect the complexities of quantum entanglement through a multitude of examples, explaining why it works and why it’s important.
Lexline’s creative process started with brainstorming ideas of what she wanted to create, how she wanted to create it and determining what would make it unique compared to other apps currently on the market. She then began wireframing, which provides a comprehensive and easy-to-read outline for all of the app’s functions. Next, she designed the different views to make her app resemble the look of a book. Lexline’s focal point was to differentiate the visual experience for the user, yet keep the interactive elements concise and easy to use. The final step was to actually code the application. She also created the graphics of the app, so she had to implement the coding for the graphics along with the coding needed for the app to function.
The integration of interactive features and layout of an eBook separates her app from other supplemental learning guides currently available. According to Lexline, the most challenging piece of the app development process was working with the animations. She found it slightly difficult to transfer all of the animated graphic points into SVGs, or scalable vector graphic files, then execute the animation. From a design standpoint, she had to curate the general structure of the app’s visuals and choose the animations that worked best within each page, without distracting the user and taking away from the user experience.
Lexline says she was “very surprised and honored" when she learned she won. The award and experience made her eligible to participate in Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, a prestigious opportunity to meet other developers and receive feedback on designs and the coding processes.
“Only two years ago, I thought it was impossible to get this far, but now, here I am,” she says.
Lexline plans to study data science or a related field in college and embark on a career as an engineer in machine learning. This path would include a combination of coding, data science and statistics that work harmoniously to produce the technology of tomorrow. Her passion for coding and her personal goals are so intertwined that she has even begun working on another app that she plans to complete during this current school year.
For those who are interested in learning more about how to code, Lexline recommends utilizing readily available online resources that are easily accessible to anyone with a computer and internet access. She also suggests finding an online or in-person community of people who share the same passion for coding and technological development. Connecting with that community can foster and motivate an even deeper understanding that supports new coders throughout their journey.
Lexline’s final piece of advice is “even if you don’t win, and a lot of times you won't, it’s a great learning experience.”
“There are countless resources out there,” she says. “I think the best way to learn is to actually dive in and start your own project.”
For more information on the competition go to Apple Swift Student Challenge.