KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — For Nur Alia Jannah, third time's the charm when she managed to win Apple’s annual Swift Student Challenge.

The Swift Student Challenge is a special competition held each year by Apple for young aspiring student programmers, 13 years and older, where they will compete with other students worldwide.

Currently studying at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Seksyen 16, Shah Alam Nur Alia first came across the competition on X (formerly Twitter).

“When Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) was announced back in 2022, I was convinced to join the competition,” she said.

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Watching the WWDC 2021 keynote convinced her to learn how to code using the Swift language and learn to create her own projects through Swift Playground, sparking her interest to create an app of her very own.

According to Nur Alia, she considered the challenge as a starting point for her own projects.

“It is also a great way for me to keep myself on my toes through exposure to experts in the field and by doing project-based learning. When I found out I had won, I felt extremely grateful and happy!” she said.

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Nur Alia did not own a MacBook, usually a prerequisite to programming on Apple’s ecosystem, but discovering she could code on an iPad as well, she then started her coding journey through the free to use and download Swift Playground app.

While she started out on iPad, she has now progressed enough to code on her own Mac.

A music lover’s inspiration

Her winning project, Tracklist, has an interesting story behind it.

“Initially, I intended the app to just track specific songs I listened to – including my reviews of an album, artist or song. Then I realised that there isn’t really an app for people to review songs.”

Nur Alia noticed that while for movies and books sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Goodreads existed for user-generated reviews, websites specifically to leave reviews for songs or albums? Not so much.

Having long been passionate about music she thought that her app could help make up for the lack of music review apps on the App Store, being one that was easy to use and accessible to any user.

“I believe that’s what made it stand out. Because people listen to music every day but no one ‘really’ reviews it,” she said.

She also aspired for Tracklist to be able to facilitate people’s desire to share whatever music they’ve been listening to, and that it could also bring people closer to others through their music taste and thoughts.

Once she knew what she wanted, it took Nur Alia three weeks to code the app — from the UI concepts, and then the structure and user interface.

“There were some challenges along the way, and the key learning from creating Tracklist is to always have git backups,” she said.

“I lost my app files at one point and only had the outdated backup code, so I had to redo some parts,” she recounted, a lesson that will definitely serve her future coding endeavours.

She also had plenty of support to rally around her efforts: “I’m grateful to have a lot of support from friends, families and experts in the field who provided me feedback about the app’s functionality and interface which helped me to develop Tracklist.”

Nur Alia isn’t afraid of dreaming big. Her biggest aspiration is to one day work at Apple Park as a software engineer, to be “among the world’s top talents while making a difference in technology.”

“I believe with diligence, discipline, passion and confidence to keep building, learning and succeeding, I’ll make it there one day,” she said.

What advice does she have to future aspiring winners of the Swift Student Challenge?

“My advice to future participants is, it’s never too early to plan. Start brainstorming your future app when inspiration hits, and as undeveloped as the idea is, you can always turn it into the most brilliant and functional idea,” she said.

Nur Alia also recommends sourcing feedback from not just family and friends, but getting feedback from the community, where she even went as far as listening to what users on X had to say, to develop her app idea.

As one of the 350 winners of the 2024 challenge, Nur Alia received one year of membership in the Apple Developer Program, a complimentary voucher to take an App Development with Swift certification exam as well as receive a special gift from Apple.