“The NASA Space Apps Challenge is a hackathon,” says Tami Kwok, a user experience (UX) designer and Mission College student currently looking for work. “Traditionally, doing a hackathon means you’re trying to find a back door in security programs and what not. But over the years the term ‘hackathon’ has evolved to mean that you’re creating an alternative way of thinking to innovate something.”
In late April, Kwok collaborated in a hackathon with NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge alongside a team called T7, comprised of herself and six employees from SAP- Li-Mei Situ, Sharayu Nargolkar, Jitendra Sharma, Masamitsu Ochiai, Aishwarya Subhluxmi and Christian Theilemann. The group won the Silicon Valley People’s Choice Award. In mid-May, the team received further good news to learn their project put them in the top 15 out of 161 People’s Choice winners and 1,287 projects.
“NASA is trying to figure out if weather correlates with certain symptoms, like allergies or asthma,” Kwok says. “The challenge was to create a platform to crowdsource information for comparing weather changes in environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity and air pollution with occurrence of symptoms of allergies and respiratory diseases.”
The team had only 48 hours to construct a viable first version of an app.
“Working under a time constraint was a lot of stress but it made us more creative,” says Situ, who had invited Kwok to be a member of the T7 team. “Our team met in South San Francisco in a venue that was assigned by NASA for teams to meet. The experience we gained competing was invaluable.”
“We created an app called Airie,” Kwok says. “Airie alerts the public or the user of weather related dangers that can affect their [health]. Airie also gives a forecast for the danger level of pollen or any air quality-related aspect. There’s also information about home remedies, doctors and popular pharmaceutical products in the area.”
Kwok and Situ, both college graduates, took a class at Mission College to develop themselves professionally. Both women credit Curtis Pembrook, who teaches Mission College’s UX and Interface Design class, for giving them the tools they needed to move far in the competition.
“The class really taught us the methodology of design by showing us to identify objectives, create personas and understand the usability of the app,” Situ says. “This class gave us a guideline to follow to do user design projects.”
“Curtis taught us how to approach a problem by understanding the user,” Kwok adds. “He also taught us how to approach a problem through design and through user-centered design.”