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iPhones, iPads and Droids, oh my! Computer programming takes on a little glitter at UNCP


The worlds of digital personal devices and Hollywood seem to have a lot in common lately.

f phones and computers are superstars, the star-makers are application program- mers, like those in Dr. Charles Lillie's advanced computer programming class at UNCP. Dr. Lillie's students are the types who are turning computers into front-page news and phones into celebrities, not to mention cash cows for Wall Street.

This semester his students are writing applications, or "apps," for the popular iPad tablet computer and Android cell phone (the Droid). Apps are computer programs that add functionality to handheld devices. iPad apps run on Apple programming language, and the Droid uses Java, the programming language commonly used in personal computers (PCs).

Because these two devices require very different kinds of programming, the class divided into two teams, one for each device. The teams created directories, news vehicles, calendars and class schedules specifically for UNCP students, faculty and staff.

"It's been a popular class after we began writing apps for the iPhone last year," Dr. Lillie said. "Our students all use these devices, and they are good programmers, too."

In a recent Newswire interview, the students were enthusiastic and said the experience will bolster their graduate school applications and resumes.

"One of my students in last year's class has a job writing apps for The Weather Channel," Dr. Lillie said.

The project has star appeal according to student Chad Hurin. "My goal is to make my own app and submit it to the Apple Store," he said. "That would be awesome, like publishing a novel or something. Ultimately, I want to go to grad school and work in computer security."

Fellow iPad team member Chris Concepcion began his undergraduate education as a physics major, then switched to computer science because "it's more creative." Hurin chimed in, "It's a lot more fun too."

Concepcion is excited to be graduating in May and has applications for graduate school pending at several universities. His plan is to get a Ph.D. in programming and then teach.

Learning Apple's proprietary language, Objective-C, was the first challenge for these two programmers, who were more familiar with PCs.

"There was definitely a learning curve because Objective-C is much harder than Java," Concepcion said. "We started with simple apps last semester, like study words for the GRE."

Four students make up the Droid team. Admittedly their work has been less challenging, since the Android operating system is PC-based, a more familiar platform. "We all know Java, so the skills were already in place," said student programmer Michael Williams. "Honestly, it was not too hard."

Coincidentally, the Droid team is mostly made up of non-traditional students. Williams is a simulator technician for a Ft. Bragg contractor doing everything from programming to design and mechanics, and Droid team member Letha Townsend is retooling her career after working in textiles.

Droid programmer Charles DeVaney returned to school after his 30-year job as an industrial designer went offshore. He found Dr. Lillie early in his studies at UNCP.

"I came to him first when I got back into school," DeVaney said. "The faculty here are very friendly, and Dr. Lillie is a champion."

Chandler Bennett, the Droid team leader, wrote a large amount of the Android code. He has been accepted by NC State University to pursue a master's degree in computer science and is interviewing to work for a company as its Android apps developer.

Dr. Lillie enjoys working with the students. And, in a world where new digital devices are launched almost weekly, he will have a popular class for a long time. The UNCP Android app has already been accepted by the Android Marketplace and is available for free download from The iPad team submitted their app to the Apple store this summer.

But will these apps get their name in lights and make lots of money? "I believe that class is in the School of Business," DeVaney said. But he noted that, although the apps will be free, a little publicity would go a long way to "sell them."

The big premier is set; roll out the red carpet.