Capital High School seniors Kyler Nelson and Andrew Stroop won the 2018 congressional app challenge, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte announced.
The challenge is for high school students nationwide to participate within their representative’s district. Gianforte’s district encompasses all of Montana.
“I didn’t believe it,” Nelson said. He didn’t know that he and Stroop had won until The Independent Record reached out to them last week. Stroop said he was “shocked” when Nelson told him.
After finding out they had won, Nelson got in his car and drove to Stroop’s job at Hardee’s to tell him in person.
“I didn’t expect to win,” Nelson said. “I thought there were others who would do way better than us.”
“Kyler and Andrew developed an impressive app that showcases Montana entrepreneurship at its best,” Gianforte said. “Their app gets two challenging, complex codes to interface making it easier to run robotic machine tools like a milling machine from their app.”
Their app is called GCodeHelper, and it aims to help people learn the complicated programming language of machining tools.
G-code is a programming language that uses numerical control programming language to control automated machine tools, which work in computer-aided manufacturing. “It’s a time saver,” Nelson said. “It tells a machine how to run and what to do.”
Computers don’t understand traditional language or commands, so this app works to translate commands into code that a machine can understand. Nelson and Stroop said their app is great for beginners in g-code and can help them learn the basics.
This code is primarily used in milling materials made of metal, plastic or wood. Practical applications run the gambit from machining metal housing for electronics to machining large parts for aircraft at Boeing.
Precision is incredibly important for these machines.
“Machining is like a reverse 3D printer,” Stroop said. “Instead of building up material, it cuts away at the material."
Nelson has been interested in machining for years. He said over the years, he has eased his parents into his world and that’s how they understand when he talks about it. Stroop only started working with machining code in the past year. However, Stroop has worked with regular code for about four years.
"Andrew has been taking computer science for three years and Kyler for two, so they're both getting good at coding," said Pat Murphy, Capital High computer science teacher. "But what sets the two apart is that they can use their programming skills to solve real world problems, and that's what they did to win the Congressional App Challenge. They found a problem that they could simplify and make more efficient, so they wrote a Java program to interface with a user and a milling machine. The experience they gained with the app challenge will serve them well in college and beyond, and we are really proud of them here at Capital High School."
The two spent about a month working on the app. Nelson said that at first, the pair sat there for a week wondering what they were going to do. “We had several false starts on ideas that didn’t work out,” Nelson said.
Stroop credits Nelson with the idea to design a g-code app. Nelson had recently started working with g-code and when he suggested it as a possible app, the idea stuck. Stroop thought it sounded like a unique idea and decided to roll with it.
The pair worked on their app in class and at home. They spent an afternoon working on a script for a video explaining the app and got the completed project in by deadline.
Stroop wants to pursue a career in computer science after graduation. He said he is interested in the development of software, websites, new programs and application.
Nelson will pursue a career in machining and hopes to work for Boeing one day. “But I’ll never give up programming,” Nelson said. “At least on the side.”
The congressional app challenge is an annual contest that aims to engage students and encourage participation in science, technology, engineering and math education fields. The nationwide competition allows high school students from across the country to compete against their peers by creating software applications for various electronic platforms.
Winning apps from each congressional district will be on display in the U.S. Capitol.