Appetite for Innovation Kevin Sullivan and Sazan Dauti have both created apps that benefit BC students. And they haven't asked for a cent in return.

A bunch of runners stand in an airport. They’re playing a waiting game, desperate to run out of the terminal and through the finish line, to hear the crowd go wild. Meanwhile, strangers whip by with the precision of sharks past the baggage claim. Everyone has places to be and things to do. Amid the chaos, Kevin Sullivan, MCAS ’17, gets a phone call.

“Yeah, this is Kevin. Okay, thanks. I’m excited.”

His voice disappears in the flurry of flights and departures. But there were thousands of phone calls made in that singular moment—a thousand “hello’s,” a thousand “goodbye’s,” and maybe a million nags from nervous parents. There was only one call to a then junior at Boston College getting a job offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers. And from Sullivan’s tone, you’d probably never have guessed the news he was hearing.

He didn’t shout or scream, and no one shouted or screamed for him. He got the job and didn’t need the glory.

“He knows everything is in his power,” said Tyler Hanson, MCAS ’17, one of Sullivan’s track and field teammates.  

With electricity in his eyes, Hanson notes how Sullivan takes everything personally, in a good way. Whether it’s a friend’s problem or a coding conundrum, Sullivan takes it in, makes it his own, attempts to truly understand it, and works to solve it. His brain is wired to see problems not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity.

“He’s a guy that loves knowing things and loves to be informed,” Hanson said. “His own energy perpetuates him.”

From a very young age, it was evident Sullivan had a natural technical mind. In the third grade, he was tasked with coming up with an activity to teach the bones of the skeleton to his class. Sullivan decided the best way to get it done was to create an online game that would show pictures to be identified. The final result was super basic, but it got the wheels turning on his problem-solving mind.

Many students’ most stressful moments on the Heights are those spent rushing to register for classes. Sullivan echoes the sentiments of his classmates concerning registration: UIS is old. Though he didn’t have the magic key to fix UIS and its stirrings of woes, Sullivan still saw an opportunity to improve the registration process and allow for more students to take the classes they want—regardless of what pick time they received.

Sullivan, who has a concentration in accounting and information systems, never had much formal education in coding. He taught himself on the side as a hobby. Faced with an undesirable pick time freshman year, Sullivan used his interest in and knowledge of coding from his own endeavors to change that. He created a basic system that would email him when a spot opened up in one of his dream classes. In the summer before junior year, Sullivan decided it was time to spread his personal tool. With the help of Richard Lucas, BC ’15, Sullivan created EagleScribe.

Because of EagleScribe, students have easier access to classes. If a student does not get the one he or she desires at registration, they can download EagleScribe and monitor up to three classes at a time. If a spot opens up in one of those classes, everyone who subscribed will get a notification on their phone. For fairness’ sake, Sullivan designed it in such a way that all who subscribe will get a notification at the same time—neither close friends nor early birds are an exception.

Sullivan says that if he can help one person take a class they love instead of being forced into one they’ll hate, all his efforts are worth it. He remembers when he first witnessed someone he did not know using his app, pointing to that as the moment he knew he was having an impact on campus. Now, 4,500 people are subscribed to the app, all of their lives easier thanks to Sullivan. Pursuing an interest and entertaining a hobby as Sullivan did can cause a lot of good.

“It is a fine line between boom and bust, you see that in the industry all the time,” Sullivan said. “But pursuing something, if you’re passionate about it and even if it doesn’t work out—it’s worth the effort, and even if it’s not great, you learn a lot from it.”

"He's a guy that loves knowing things and loves to be informed, his own energy perpetuates him." Tyler Hanson MCAS '17

Though he graduates this spring, Sullivan’s commitment to the BC community hasn’t faltered. He continues to look for ways to improve EagleScribe, such as providing more details in searches, adding a “suggested classes” aspect to the service, and working with BC to create ways for students to get on a waitlist. Sullivan hopes to use the app to show BC where students’ interests lie, collecting data to show which classes are most popular. Someday, he hopes, BC can add sections accordingly by looking at the number of requests for the most subscribed-to classes—an example of data the University would not have through its own systems.

One of the things that makes Sullivan’s character and commitment to serving others evident is his refusal to make students pay for the app, or have to deal with pesky ads, even though it comes at his own expense.

“Just for fun. We’re not making any money off of it,” Sullivan said.

Sazan Dauti, the creator of EagleEats—another app engineered to make the lives of BC students easier—feels the same way.

“I don’t really want to monetize a student app, I just don’t feel that’s right,” Dauti said.

Dauti started his app empire in the seventh grade. When the iPhone App Store was launched in 2008, his interest was piqued right away. While most of his friends were playing Modern Warfare, Dauti decided he’d rather spend his time building games.

“I was like the lone wolf,” he said.

Once Dauti started using apps, he became aware of the new ease of distribution. Instead of going through separate distributors, as with Xbox or Playstation, creators could now release directly to the App Store. “I realized that if I just do that I could release it to millions of people instantly.”

To build an iPhone app you need a Mac and an iOS development system called “Xcode.” When he told his parents about his interest in coding, they made sure he was serious—then drove him to the Apple Store. Soon enough, Dauti built his first app—a replica of Doodle Jump—and has only jumped higher since then.   

Dauti had the idea for EagleEats his freshman year, but he never got around to creating the app—he had plenty on his plate at the time.

During TechTrek, a course that combines classroom learning with a week-long trip to Silicon Valley, Dauti approached his roommate, Joseph Bauer, CSOM ’18, about the concept and found he had been thinking about the same thing. A match made in heaven, the pair had complementary talents and an identical vision. Dauti built the app from scratch and Bauer did the marketing. In total, creation took about a month, with the design of the app itself taking three combined working days and the system taking two. Dauti and Bauer had a target of 2,000 downloads—they reached it quickly, with over 700 downloads in the first two days.

“When you set goals you don’t really expect to get them right away and when I did hit it, I thought it was pretty cool,” he said.

D

auti has created a variety of apps in both hackathons and on his own time. He has a line of games, like Sheep Jump, a Doodle Jump replica, and Flappy Pig, a spinoff of the popular Flappy Bird.  He has created more utility-purpose apps, such as FastWatch. The Chrome extension and iPhone app, which was intended to quicken the process of watching videos, earned him first place in DubHacks, a hackathon with more than 100 competing teams. Most recently, he has been building upon his zeal for the restaurant industry. He launched the app GrubSpot last year, which allows users to see restaurants along their chosen routes.
“When I came to BC I didn’t really like the food, so I actually didn’t use my meal plan freshman or sophomore year at all—I just ordered out every day,” Dauti said. “I’m from a small town so when I saw all these restaurants I thought ‘what in the world’ and I realized the potential the restaurant business has—especially in a big city.”

And then, of course, he moved on to EagleEats. With his creation of the app in Jan. 2017, Dauti brought BC Dining to the palms of thousands of students. The app, which has had thousands of downloads, allows students to view which dining halls are open, what they are serving, and the nutritional value of menu items. The app allows students to see which dining hall is nearest to them and add “favorites” to be notified when a user arrives at a specific location—none of which is possible through the basic menu displayed by BC Dining.

“I had the tools to do it on my own, so I thought, ‘Why not, it’s a cool project,’” Dauti said. “So I did it on my own.”

The burgeoning tech mogul hopes to bring a new food-related idea to fruition this summer. Dauti wants to improve on the app for OpenTable, which allows consumers to make reservations at restaurants with the flick of a finger, but imposes costs on participating eateries. Dauti’s innovative mind, and belief that “competition fuels innovation,” saw a better way to do it. He thinks it is possible to circumvent costs by creating an app which makes reservation calls automatically, so that participating restaurants do not have to use the costly service. Meanwhile, consumers still get the benefit of an easier, user-friendly system.

Dauti clearly has a passion for coding, but what is most special is his fervor for helping others. He doesn’t hold any copyrights for his designs and codes, but rather passes down his knowledge to anyone he can. John Gallaugher, associate professor of the information systems department, has gotten to know Dauti over the years and is amazed at his service-driven attitude. He calls Dauti a “linch-pin of [his] T.A. team,” citing him as “the guy with the app experience” who hosts extra office hours.

“He has a passion for technology and an eagerness to share it with others and say ‘Hey you can do it, too,’” Gallaugher said. “He uses technology as a way to help the community.”

Dauti is an innovator hellbent on bringing BC into the future, pushing its motto of “men and women for others” into the world of technology while making sure he aids others in gaining the tools they need to do so, too. Dauti thinks there is room for technological improvement at BC, but has taken on this mission in his own way. Besides the creation of EagleEats, he has created an app for WZBC, allowing users to listen mobily, view the weekly schedule, and show descriptions. Dauti wants to create a new product-development club. In the club, members would go through the entire process of building something from beginning to end, including marketing, thus expanding their breadth of knowledge to the real world beyond the classroom.

“If you’re going to class and you don’t like it, switch your major,” Dauti offered as advice to his peers. “If you’re going to class and you love it, learn some more in your free time.”

You wouldn’t know it from the way they shrug off praise in the Chocolate Bar but Dauti and Sullivan are two of BC’s unassuming heroes.

“Coding is really the only true superpower, and Sazan is using his superpowers for good,” Gallaugher said. “We’re going to have a lot of heroes at BC in years to come.”

As Gallaugher suggested, Dauti and Sullivan have paved the way for innovation at BC. With expanding interest in the computer science department, the two have made it obvious that being a student is not enough. Though academic achievement is important, innovation does not happen in the confines of a classroom—it’s about what you do outside of the halls.

“Here at BC a lot of computer science students just do their classwork and leave it. To become a better computer scientist and good entrepreneur, or anything in general you have to do work on your own time,” Dauti said. “There’s no way I could’ve used only the knowledge I learned at BC to do what I did. I had to invest my own time into it.”

Sullivan thinks people should look for opportunities to create everywhere, especially in the campus community where there is a group of people congregated with commonalities in their specific needs. Dauti encourages all to just get out there and make something. Both stress the need for greater technological advances on the BC campus—and the selflessness to innovate without looking for a physical return.

Refusal on the part of both Dauti and Sullivan to monetize their respective apps highlights their commitment to the community, especially given that they both plan to keep supporting and improving their apps after they graduate. Dauti aims to find a successor among the younger ranks of BC’s computer science department to carry on EagleEats’ legacy. In return for all the hours they spent identifying problems, collecting data, laying out the aesthetics, getting approval from Apple, and maintaining their apps’ structural integrity while the user base grows, Dauti and Sullivan got a pat on the back from a couple of friends. But that’s all they need. They thrive off the thrill of knowing they’ve made the lives of their fellow students easier. Sullivan says he is pleased with his work if he can help just one student take a class they really want to.

As Dauti and Sullivan have proved, there’s no age requirement for innovation—unlike Mary Ann’s or Agoro’s, you don’t need a “21-plus” ID to get in on it. You just need a vision, and the drive to get there—everyone has the power to change the world around them.

“Innovate or die,” Sullivan said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

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About Joan Kennedy