Problem Solving: Find my Car!


Editor’s Note: In his college admissions essay, Yirong “Lukas” Chen, relates how he used problem solving skills to develop an app finding a parked car. More important than the app’s success, Lukas says, was the development of persistence and the clarification of career goals. Lukas plans to attend either the University of California at Irvine to major in computer science or The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to major in Math.

Problem Solving: Where Did I Park?

Lukas Chen, Class of 2021
Lukas Chen, Class of 2021

One hundred windshields reflected the low-hanging sun into our eyes. Another barrier to success.  “Was it B12 or B24?” I thought silently, trusting we were nearing our objective. My father shot me a  sideways glance as the blue lot suddenly transformed into the pink lot. “We must have been blue,” I  assured myself although my confidence was waning. After a joyous day of Christmas shopping, I was  regretting the boasts I’d offered earlier in the day. We couldn’t find our car, and it had been my job to  remember where we’d parked. 

This is a common problem, of course, one that my friends and I discussed at length when classes  resumed the next semester. The pain of finding a car in a parking lot full of nearly identical vehicles  was echoed across the lunch table as we spoke. And I decided to do something about it. 

Problem Solving: Mobile Application Development

Equipped with skills in windows and web programming, as well as encouragement from my friends, I  began using my free time to learn about mobile application development. I had already built some  simple programs using windows and web programming tools, and had even made some pocket money  by building a word-based puzzle game using Tencent’s suite of bot services. Building an entire application, though, was a new challenge, which I set about completing with passion and gusto. 

After many sleepless nights of development and debugging, I completed my first version and invited my friends to test the software. Those alpha-users quickly revealed shortcomings in my creation. It  was troublesome to manually click a button to record the parking location, and many users felt their native maps app from Google or Apple could simply record the location for them. 

Problem Solving: Researching the Competition

The latter issue posed a real threat to my success. Competing with those behemoths meant my app needed to be seamless and easy to use. I decided to research what my competition was doing to see if I could build a better app than they could. To my surprise, most of the parking applications on the market required users to press a button, but I now believed this to be a wholly unnecessary step. I instituted  some innovative changes to my application. I began using the phone’s GPS to detect moving speed. Once the speed dropped below a specific amount, the application would use the pedometer to track  the number of steps being taken. Thus, my application was able to assume that a user had just parked  their car and automatically recorded the location. 

My community of users loved my innovations. They praised my work and assured me it had saved  them from the embarrassment of losing their vehicle. Yet, as with any technological innovation, there  is still work to do. Because it runs in the background, my application consumes a percentage of the power from my users’ phones. There are also some undiscovered bugs still lurking beneath the surface, waiting to be found. 

Problem Solving: Pain Leads to Gain

In truth, my simple parking application may not be commercially viable, but it was a wonderful exercise to test my programming and creative problem-solving abilities. Most importantly, I proved to  myself that through persistence and an open mind, I can achieve anything. Whenever I encountered a  bug, which was often, I felt frustrated and tired. But I relied on internet resources and a large community of programmers online to find solutions to the problems I was having. I even learned more about the business of technology, having completed a market analysis of the parking application  ecosystem. 

While losing a car in a parking lot might seem like an inconsequential problem, I’m already using the  skills I developed in this project to address more pressing social issues. It is my dream to become a  technologist, an innovator who builds new tools not just for profit, but to push forward healthy social  developments.