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Cooking Up Code: A Journey to Mastering Mobile Application Development

Associate Software Developer Vanelin Wallace finds the right ingredients for creating a successful MyUNLV mobile application. Wallace and Sky Hieda, from Enrollment and Student Services, share their experience with application users from all over the world at the Alliance Conference.

People  |  Apr 8, 2020  |  By Nicole Johnson
Two women standing next to each other

Vanelin Wallace (left) and Sky Hieda (right) worked together on a mobile-friendly MyUNLV application. (Rakitha Perera/UNLV OIT)

When Vanelin Wallace graduated culinary school, she never thought that she would use her cooking skills to whip up a recipe for software code. But she did just that with the new MyUNLV mobile application.

The Associate Software Developer, who has a Masters Degree in Computer Science, teamed up with Sky Hieda, a business systems analyst for Enrollment and Student Services, on the project. With enrollment hitting record-breaking numbers (this fall saw the largest freshman class in the school’s 62-year history), the two knew they needed to make the student orientation process in MyUNLV better for a tech-savvy generation.

Hors d'oeuvre: Taking a small bite into MyUNLV

The goal was to create a seamless orientation registration process for incoming students, where they could easily choose an orientation session date, shirt size, and meal preference, as well as have the option to add a guest. The application also needed to automatically send notifications to students, including welcome messages, next step emails, and orientation reminders.

Wallace, a five-year Office of Information Technology employee, and Hieda tackled the desktop version first. It took nearly two years to revamp the MyUNLV application, which saw rave reviews from admissions staff for its clean, intuitive design.

It was now time to test the new look with those who would be using MyUNLV the most - students.

“Based on the positive feedback, we thought we made major improvements,” said Hieda, a UNLV alumna. “We asked our student employees to test the updated application. But instead of logging into a desktop computer, every person picked up their phones to access MyUNLV. We knew immediately that we needed to start working on a mobile version.”

And that is what they did.

Wallace dedicated her time to mobile application design. She spent six months trying to crack the code, and like any chef, experimented with different ingredients (or syntax if you are a software developer) for the perfect recipe.

“I enjoy the challenge of finding solutions to problems,” said Wallace. “It took time, persistence, patience, and a whole lot of trial and error, but I eventually found the right code to develop the mobile version.”

The mobile-friendly MyUNLV application launched before the start of this spring semester. Since then, students have a seamless experience registering and making changes to orientation reservation.

Main course: Dishing out information to higher education colleagues

Even before the official roll out of the mobile version of MyUNLV, Wallace and Hieda were excited to tout their success with fellow software developers and admissions staff.

In November 2019, they stood in front of a packed room talking about their experience building a mobile-friendly application with other higher education peers at the Southwest Regional User Group Conference in Anaheim, California.

The two prepared a one-hour presentation, allotting 40 minutes for Hieda to talk about MyUNLV. The rest of the time was dedicated to Wallace, who discussed the technical side of mobile development.

Everyone was captivated by how Wallace cracked the mobile code.

“I was shocked that so many people were interested in how I figured out how to code for the mobile version,” said Wallace. “We got so many questions about it, but we ran out of time. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to review the code or constraints, which most of the people wanted to know.”

In today’s digital world, it is becoming increasingly more important to design for mobile. Higher education institutions recognize this trend and want to implement it as soon as possible, but with a little guidance from a subject-matter expert.

Dessert: A sweet treat for a successful mobile-friendly application

With a new-found confidence, Wallace and Hieda began reworking their presentation for other conferences. The revised presentation now includes more time to share the process of coding for mobile-friendly applications.

Due to the outpouring of support from the fall conference, the duo were invited to present at one of the largest meetings for application users in higher education and public sectors from across the world. They will share their experience, including the recipe for a successful mobile application, at the Alliance Conference, which recently transitioned to a virtual event. It is scheduled for May 18-22.

Between now and then, you will find Wallace working hard to add new, exciting recipes to her cookbook, with help from her sous chef Hieda of course.