Monday, September 23

UCLA student group Simul8 develops apps for UCLA Library


Between the lines upon lines of code recent computer science graduate Christina Fries writes, she sees her own creativity.

Each complete segment is an expression of her knowledge and artistry, a sentiment she discovered in part through her work with Simul8, a student group employed by the UCLA Library to develop Web and mobile apps.

The group has created and maintained the UCLA Library app for both iOS and Android. The application allows users to access the library database through their phones and do everything from searching the online catalog to checking laptop availability, said Kevin Rundblad, user experience and social technology strategist at the UCLA Library and co-founder of Simul8.

Simul8 has also created other apps such as Article Search, a research-oriented search engine which acts as a portal to the library’s reserves of academic articles and papers.

And students can also use Stashd, a recently released app the group created to save online library content to the user’s UCLA account in one click for quick and convenient mobile access.

For its members, Simul8 is more about the culture of friendship and cooperative learning than the apps the group creates, said Rundblad.

Drawing from previous experience in a small video startup company, Rundblad said he envisioned Simul8 as a startup group within UCLA Library that would hire students to bring innovative Web and mobile development to the Library.

The group’s style of work mimics the independence that startup companies such as Netflix and Facebook grant to their employees, giving student developers less stress and more creative freedom with their ideas and designs, Rundblad said.

The students work independently from home but stay in constant communication with each other through emails and weekly meetings to share ideas for current and future projects.

“Our group is very organic – we let the work just happen,” Rundblad said.

Simul8 has only three rules – to be effective instead of being rule-driven, that the best idea wins, and to defer to the expertise of others, Rundblad said.

By following these three rules, Rundblad said he hopes to keep the Simul8 experience fun and as stressless as possible while also giving students a taste of the real world.

Tarry Chen, a former Simul8 member who graduated with a degree in computer science last winter quarter, said the group helped him obtain the skills expected of Web developers in the job market. It also gave him the opportunity to connect the UCLA community to the library.

“Simul8 is a really good environment for students to build great applications to reach out to other students at UCLA,” Chen said. “It feels like the apps have a real impact.”

The group started in 2009, with Rundblad and his five student recruits experimenting and creating the technical foundations of the applications students now use, Rundblad said.

The UCLA Library applications launched in late 2011. The iOS version of the application has been downloaded about 6,000 times while the Android app has been downloaded between 1,000 and 1,500 times.

Fries said one of her favorite parts of participating in Simul8 is applying the theories she has learned in her computer science classes at UCLA to the real world.

Most of all, she said she enjoys the creative programming that she can experiment with through the group.

“I like how (the Library) lets us do our own thing and lets us contribute ideas,” Fries said. “We’re not just coding monkeys.”

Rundblad said he received strong support from the Library and university librarian Gary Strong, who helped secure the young group funding from the Library.

The Library was able to fund Simul8’s activities partially because it received its largest donation ever – $5 million – in December 2009 from the Arcadia Fund, a charitable grant organization based in the United Kingdom.

Strong said Simul8 has made some students rethink their ideas about the library as more than just a place to study or sleep in. He added that the group’s work has kept UCLA’s library up to date with new technology.

“Technology doesn’t stop; (you) want to stay on the cutting edge … and I see the library needing to keep up with that in the future,” Strong said.

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