MEET THE DEVELOPER
Made in the Shade
How Shawn Patel went from coding newbie to creator of a sun-safety app.
Shawn Patel is a winner of Apple’s WWDC18 Scholarship, awarded to talented students and members of organizations that promote science, technology, engineering, or math.
It’ll come as no surprise that 17-year-old Shawn Patel lives in sunny La Palma, California, and is passionate about medicine. The first app he created, called UV Safe, reminds users to reapply sunscreen—taking their location and the local weather into account. A beta feature in the app uses machine learning to compare a photo of a mole that you’ve taken to images that have been classified as benign or malignant. (It’s not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.)
Here, the Eagle Scout who recently backpacked 85 miles across New Mexico explains how he broke through his initial bewilderment at coding, and how coding dovetails perfectly with the medical field.
What got you into coding?
My parents are both engineers, and they thought it would be cool if I got into coding. So for my 13th birthday, they gave me an Apple OS membership. I was 15 when I developed my first app, UV Safe. I’m self-taught; I haven’t taken any real courses in coding. I’ve been learning by creating apps.
What did you find most intimidating about it?
Starting my first line of code. Coding seemed so complicated at first; it looks like a foreign language. But I just constantly looked at it, built more projects, and wrote more and more, and it became part of me.
What do you find most rewarding?
The impact it can have on other people’s lives. I’m really into the medical field and how you can combine technology with medicine. Before, I didn’t know you could be in medicine and not be a doctor or a nurse.
It gets easier to learn more and expand your technological capabilities.
How did your friends and classmates react to your app?
For the most part they’re kind of amazed, because they don’t know how to make apps. I’ve partnered with some of them too—if they have an idea, I can make it. One is called Balls in Boxes; it’s like a Pong game.
What advice do you have for students who are just getting into coding?
I would say the biggest factor is perseverance. Once you get past that first step, it’s not easy, but it gets easier to learn more and expand your technological capabilities.
What problem would you love to solve with technology?
I’d like to cure different diseases—but do it in an affordable manner so everyone can have the solution, not just a few people.