UT Student Makes App Impression

Published: Jul 23, 2012
Christian Reich ’14 said that people like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney are his inspirations, emphasizing that point with a tattoo he got of the Disney quote, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
Christian Reich ’14 said that people like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney are his inspirations, emphasizing that point with a tattoo he got of the Disney quote, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
Christian Reich ’14 doesn’t like to be bored. On most semester breaks, Reich creates – from birdhouses and origami when he was young, evolving to web design, video editing and photo manipulation in his teens.

This past winter break was no different. Reich has created his fourth iPhone application, a game called “We Spy,” which was released this July.

“To me, the reward is having something to do,” said Reich. “I hate being bored. That’s why I must constantly have a project to work on or I go crazy.”

When Apple announced the release of the iPhone in 2007, Reich sat absorbed in front of his computer watching a recorded version of Steve Jobs’ keynote presentation. Six months later, he ordered a book on Amazon on how to start programing for the iPhone.

Reich describes “We Spy” as a new spin on the classic I Spy game, making it more social through Facebook integration. He said users take or select a photo from their device, then outline a hidden object within the picture and provide a clue as to what their friend must find.

As a freshman in high school, Reich taught himself Adobe Flash’s language called ActionScript. then HTML, CSS, Javascript and PHP, though he eventually was formally trained in Java.

“Having taught myself these programming languages, I figured I could take the leap to programming for the iPhone,” said Reich, a new media production major with minors in advertising and communications.

But learning how to program for the iPhone was more challenging than Reich originally thought.

“It was very tough as there were many new concepts I was not familiar with. I worked for a few days and gave up because it was seemingly beyond my abilities to learn this language on my own,” said Reich, who is from Burr Ridge, IL. “I essentially said to myself that I couldn’t give up and that I could do it if I just tried hard enough.”

With the help of the book, internet forums, and a lot of persistence, Reich felt he was ready to start programming. He had his mom sign up with the Apple Developer program as a developer (since he was too young at the time). Two months later he released the customizable button named “That was…,” which is still in the AppStore, along with another of his apps called “Rainforest Rescuer.”

With his newest application, “We Spy,” Reich ran ideas by his “official game tester” — his roommate Austin Koepp ’14 — set up a server to handle the notifications generated by the app and tested it on multiple devices (including an iPad Touch he borrowed many nights from Koepp).

“It is great to see something I made in the AppStore and look every day to see how many people downloaded ‘We Spy’ and in which parts of the world,” said Reich. As of July 17, his app had been downloaded 1,088 times by users from about 300 countries including New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

While Reich is mainly self-taught, he found Associate Professor Santiago Echeverry’s advanced digital arts class helpful in the development of the interface, “which involves figuring out a natural way for people to interact with a technology,” Reich explained, noting that he’d like to make a career out of interface design.

“His in-class discussions, energetic lectures and readings about what makes for good interaction design were constantly in the back of my mind as I designed ‘We Spy,’” Reich said.

Echeverry said Reich’s programming ability is unusual for someone his age.

“When he took my class, the others didn’t have the same technical knowledge as he did,” said Echeverry. “He’s a little bit of a genius.”

Reich said that people like Steve Jobs and Walt Disney are his inspirations, emphasizing that point with a tattoo he got of the Disney quote, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

“That is what I want to do,” said Reich, who’d love a future merging design, communication and technology. “I want to do the impossible.”


Reich isn’t the only one at UT creating applications. Jeffrey Skowronek and Stephen Blessing, UT psychology professors, are designing an interactive iPad application for use at the Glazer Children’s Museum. In 2010, Molly McGill ’12 created a Breeders' Cup iPhone application that was selected in 2011 as an official honoree in the sports category of the 15th annual Webby Awards.

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