The Technology Association of Iowa

For the past three years, Innovative Software Engineering (ISE) has guided 40 high school students in the Iowa City area through a summer of mobile app development in the ISE Coding Garage. For many, this was their first experience at creating something tangible with the knowledge they have learned in their high school computer classes.

The 9-week program, designed for self-driven high school students that have taken an AP Computer Science course, gives students the opportunity to create their own Android app and present the finished project to a panel of judges. Participants have access to the ISE interns and other experienced ISE programmers, to ask questions and get feedback during the process. Not only do the high school students benefit, but the ISE interns build on their leadership skills as well.

The inaugural program began in 2015 with just four students, and was so successful that ISE’s CEO, Hass Machlab, decided to make it an annual event. The goal of the program is to build our community’s technical capabilities and talents, and expose high school students and the community to software development career opportunities in the corridor, ideally encouraging them to stay in Iowa. The cost of the ISE Coding Garage is free for the students, thanks to a joint sponsorship between ISE and the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (OVPR&ED).

Programming knowledge isn’t the only thing participants get out of the program. The summer concludes with the students vying for $850 in cash prizes for their finished app ideas during the final presentations. All apps are judged in 5 categories: User Interface and Design, User Experience, Practicality, Originality, and Presentation. These categories were developed by the students to reflect the key attributes of a successful mobile app. A new enhancement to this year’s presentations was the judging app, Score This Hack, created by one of the ISE interns. This app automated the judging process and allowed for a speedy tabulation of the results at the end of the final presentations.

For two consecutive years, Iowa City High School student, Kawther Rouabhi was awarded first place. In 2016, she created the RoomMore app as a solution for roommates struggling to divide bills and responsibilities evenly. This year, Kawther continued to impress the judges by developing lightleaf, an app for gardeners to track planting and watering schedules, read tips on plants and produce, and find local farmer’s markets to attend. Not only did she create a functional app, she also incorporated a complete branded look, including logo design and color scheme. Kawther credits her experience with the ISE Coding Garage as not only her first achievement in coding, but her proudest accomplishment, solidifying that technology is where she wants to focus her career plans.

Other apps ideas included: using your phone as a ruler, finding friends to play basketball with, determining what bookmarked article to read, and helping home cooks to organize recipes and create shopping lists. This summer, Jeff Nock from the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) spoke in one of the sessions on how students can use the app development skills they are learning in the ISE Coding Garage to help entrepreneurs at the University of Iowa. Several students have expressed interest in continuing to work on their apps with plans to publish them in an app store.

Next spring ISE will be recruiting for the summer 2018 program. Know someone that might be interested? More information on the program, requirements, and registration information can be found at

Innovative Software Engineering (ISE)