Campus dining ever better with URdining app

A new iOS application hopes to improve campus dining experiences for undergraduates.  Xuefeng Peng ’17 and Jacob Niebloom ’18 have created an app called URdining that will serve as a database for all information relating to food on campus.  The app, which is now available in the Apple App Store, includes day-to-day menus, nutritional information, and hours of operation for each dining hall, making information typically found on CampusDish easily accessible to the student body.

Peng, a sophomore majoring in computer science and applied mathematics, laid down much of the coding groundwork for the app.  Peng transferred to the University of Rochester from Stony Brook University last fall.  The idea for this app came out of his difficulties in navigating through SBU’s eight different dining facilities.  Without a localized source of information regarding menus on a daily basis, he often found himself wandering in and out of dining halls with a stomach full of only disappointment.

Though he began work on the code before he came to the River Campus, Peng is excited to be bring dining solutions to his new college home.  “I really want to use what I have learned to bring convenience and diversity to the University community,” he said.

While the prototype only took four months to complete, Peng admitted that he owes the successful launch of the application to all of the collaborative work that went into its production.  Niebloom, also a computer science major, assisted with the code’s progress as well as logistics regarding technological security.  Guidance from Natalie Antal from the Center for Entrepreneurship and Kevin Aubrey from Dining Services was also integral to the application’s development.

The undergraduates also successfully applied to FbStart, a program designed to help early stage mobile startups build and grow their apps.  The team received $20,000 in free tools and services from the Facebook-based program, which is one of the nation’s leading and most competitive incubators, boasting a 3% acceptance rate.

Looking forward, Peng is excited to see the student body benefit from the new accessibility of information offered by this app and hopes to make campus dining ever better for coming generations of Rochester students.

The app offers menus and nutrition information for all major dining halls on River Campus, a user rating system and comment system, and the ability to send push notifications regarding special events and other dining announcements. Users can sign into the app via email address, Facebook login, or Google+ login.  The app, found here, is available for download for all iOS mobile users.

Photo by Chengyu Deng ‘ 17

Spotlight on Engineering Alumni: Ankur Pansari

Name: Ankur Pansari
Age: 30
Occupation: CEO & Founder of Artillery Games
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Optics and B.S. in Applied Mathematics with minor in Physics, University of Rochester, 2004.
Current city/state of residence: Silicon Valley, CA
Community activities: Big Brothers / Big Sisters.  Former big-brother, now fund-raiser.

What do you do now, and why did you choose this career?

I recently founded Artillery Games, and through the company, we are trying to build the next generation of browser based games.  There are three of us that founded the company, and all of us met by working at Google together.  We’ve raised an investment round already and are really excited about what we’re doing!

Prior to Artillery, I spent four years at Facebook working on partnerships and implementing them technically where I was a partnership engineer.  Likewise, I did something similar at Google for two years prior to that.  After college, I worked as a sales engineer at an optical engineering company for a year before ending up at Google in Silicon Valley.

I do what I do because I love it — I’m the luckiest guy on earth.  Technology is something that I do for fun.  In high school, when cool kids were probably going to parties, I was disassembling my computer or installing Linux.  To me, my job isn’t a job, but something I would do even if I didn’t get paid to do it.  I’m so thankful that the whole Internet thing became popular because I’m not exactly sure what I would have done with my life otherwise.

What activities were you involved in as a student, and what did you gain from them?

I founded a software development firm called Treosoft in college.  We built the now infamous Campus Club Connection.  It was a great learning experience of how to build a startup, even if we weren’t ultimately able to make it successful. Also, I founded the Business and Investment Club and played squash.  All of these were really fun and kept me busy.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

After Treosoft failed, I had a bit of a difficult couple months.  Ultimately, I took a sales-engineering job at an optics company in Pittsburgh, PA while trying to build another software startup in my free time.  After about a year, my brother referred me to Google and found that there were sales-engineers, so I applied and ended up with an offer a couple weeks later and moved out to the Valley!

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

Day to day, I don’t use the specific skills from my degrees, but most important are the tools that we learned of “how to learn.”  Meaning, the incredibly challenging problems we faced in college aren’t any different from trying to build a company.  It just takes patience, resolve, time, and tons of hard work.  My freshman year, I was pretty lazy and unmotivated, but once optics started to get really challenging my sophomore year, it taught me how to step up, learn how to work hard, and love it.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It’s always a challenge, but I tend to burn-out easily, so I try to give my job 40-50 hours a week of focused time, meaning, completely focused with no distractions, and when I come home, I’m completely separated from the office.  In this way, I’m able to recharge.  I’m probably still “thinking” about things, but that time is for me to decompress and do other things.

Going to the gym and spending time with family have been important things that help keep my life in balance also.  I’d encourage students to develop hobbies in college that they can continue the rest of their lives.  Balance is important.

How are you still connected with the University?

I have hosted alumni get-togethers in the Bay Area in the past, and I have helped interview students.  Now days, I try to attend all of the alumni get togethers.  It’s great to meet all of the bright young students graduating from the alma matar.

What advice do you have for current students?

Tough question … I’d say, “explore everything that you can, and see if you can find something that you love.  Don’t chase money, but chase your passion.  If you can work on something that you love every day, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.  If you happen to become successful at it, that is great, but even if you don’t, you just spent your life working on something that you love!”