Campus Life

The app that ate my summer

What happens when there isn’t an app for that

I’m the Ash Ketchum of programming. I want to be the very best — which is why it pains me that I’m still nothing close to an elite coder. So when my parents bought me the new Sprint HTC Evo 4G last summer, I decided that I was going to write an Android app. I needed something fun to do while home for summer break, and becoming an Android developer would help further my progress toward the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell insists I need to be really good at something.

In addition to being a programmer, I’m also the proud manager of the Cuddle franchise, which is currently tied for the longest playoff appearance streak in the history of our fantasy football league. Given all of the Verizon commercials about how the iPhone doesn’t, but “DROID DOES!” I was certain that my new phone would give the Cuddles a leg up at our fantasy draft. But it turned out that I could only find one fantasy football app, and it wasn’t tailored toward draft day.

So it was settled. I was going to write an Android app. And it was going to be a fantasy football draft app.

I didn’t know anything about the Android OS, so I had to start from scratch — beginning with Google’s “Dev Guide” and then trekking through tutorials and example programs. Finally, I started coding. As the only fantasy football draft app, my app was sure to be popular. For a while, I was having a blast getting jiggy with Java and XML, but then one day I met with horror. Some company named “Next Gen Fantasy” had just uploaded a fantasy football draft app — beating me to market! This was unacceptable. I had to finish my app — ASAP.

So I coded. And coded. And coded. I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, showered, downed caffeine … and coded. Then lunch and dinner — while coding. Then bed. Then the same thing the next day. And the next.

“Come with us to breakfast at Bob Evans!” Mom and my sister Ashley pleaded.

But this was no time for family and “farm–fresh goodness.” I was nowhere close to being done, and each day Next Gen Fantasy’s app kept on getting more and more downloads — downloads that my app should be getting. So I ate breakfast alone.

One evening, Ashley and I had a dispute over the time allocation of our shared bathroom resources. I snapped at her. My mom got involved, then my Dad. It was the biggest family quarrel in years. The app was pushing me to the edge.

But I couldn’t slow down. I had to finish the app before our league’s fantasy draft on July 31st — preferably sooner, because not only had Next Gen Fantasy’s app hit 5,000 downloads, but another competitor had just hit the “ever-expanding” Android Market. This had ceased to be fun. The app was taking over my life.

Finally, I finished — just a couple of days before our league’s draft date — and named the app “Fantasy Football Player Ranker,” not even bothering to give it a creative name. At this point I just wanted nothing to do with it anymore. I didn’t use it for my own fantasy draft, and I didn’t even upload it to the Android Market. I could just imagine the torrent of feature requests and bugs that would need patching. I was taking a sabbatical from coding.

But after our league’s fantasy draft, I began to second guess this decision. I knew what the app had done to me over the past couple of weeks. Still, I’d spent all of this time on it; it’d be a shame not to share it with the world. And I promised myself that I wouldn’t let the app take over my life and tear me away from my family again. After all, how much work could it possibly be?

My app hit 1,000 downloads in about four days. Its first review was one star out of five. “There is no way I’m typing in every player on my roster,” said Charles in the review section on the Android Market. In response to his criticism, I ranked the top 178 fantasy players and added a “Load Default Rankings” feature to my code. This took a full day.

After issuing the update, Nick posted a four–star review, “Thanks for the update, works great for what I need.” This made my day. I kept taking my phone out of my pocket, just to look at it. At Potbelly Sandwich Works that evening, I spent almost our entire dinner talking to Ashley about Nick’s review.

Then I received an e–mail requesting that I add the ability to do rankings by player position. This should have been relatively easy to add. However, because of the nonsensical way I’d written my code, it wouldn’t be. Still, I didn’t want to let the e–mailer down — especially since he’d been so kind; he even thanked me for writing the app! So I replied, telling him that I’d try to add the ability to do rankings by position soon.

To make matters worse, since my last update, a handful of users were getting an error, and I had no idea why because I couldn’t find a way to replicate it on my own phone. The work was already piling up, and my app had only just hit the Android Market. I was once again letting it take over my life.

Before I went to bed, fate happened to unite me with a cartoon series called Phineas and Ferb, which is apparently very popular among kids these days. This particular episode was titled, “Summer Belongs to You.” It was about an hour long, but it was so engaging that I watched the entire show before going to sleep.

The next day, I rolled out of bed and watched video from Google’s 2009 I/O conference. I had developed a theory about what was causing the error, but fixing it was going to require substantial changes to my code. Between that and adding the new feature, I had a lot of coding, testing, and debugging ahead. If I was lucky, I could make significant progress that day and maybe even have time to play Super Smash Bros. Brawl with Ashley.

That’s when I remembered the cartoon from the night before.

Summer should belong to me. I sent a message to the e–mailer, concluding it with “I have to go back to college soon, so I do not think I am going to have time to add that feature in. Sorry for getting your hopes up.”

To be honest, I lied. I didn’t have to go back to college soon — I had almost a full month of summer left. I uploaded to the Android Market a minor change that I’d already written. That was going to be the last update for a long time. That was it. About a week after putting it on the market, I decided I would no longer support my app.

The summer belonged to me.