Innovator in Residence to Teach App Development

April 27, 2016 | Ab. Velasco

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Frank Tsonis

New Innovator in Residence Frank Tsonis -- pictured here at InterAccess Media Centre -- will deliver classes and lectures about mobile app development (Photo: Rob Cruickshank, Flickr).


This spring, from May 9 to July 31, the library's new Innovator in Residence Frank Tsonis will give lectures and teach classes about mobile app development at Toronto Reference Library.

His exciting lineup of free classes and lectures include: "Introduction to Computer Programming," "Creating Interactive Graphics for Android," "Introduction to iOS Development," and "User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design."

Frank Tsonis is an interactive media app developer and educator based in Toronto. He develops mobile apps, interactive art installations, data visualizations and web-based software. He currently teaches at York and OCAD universities and has previously taught at InterAccess Media Art Centre.

The Innovator in Residence program offers a fun and hands-on way to learn about the technology offered at the library's Digital Innovation Hubs. Past residencies have included programs on 3D printing, filmmaking, audio production, Arduino, 3D design and robotics.

We chatted with Frank to find out what he's looking forward to during his residency, his advice for aspiring app developers and what apps he can't live without.


Welcome Frank, our newest Innovator! What made you interested in applying to be our Innovator in Residence?

I have been teaching Digital Media courses for several years, and when I discovered the Innovator in Residence program at the Toronto Public Library, it seemed like a perfect fit to my teaching philosophy and long term goals. Digital technologies are changing all aspects of our lives and I strongly believe that digital literacy, in particular having knowledge of computer programming, is essential.

The digital media programs that the Toronto Public Library is offering are fantastic and having access to these resources are essential for both youth and adults alike. I wanted to contribute to the goals of the Digital Innovation Hub by sharing my experiences and designing workshops that are both fun and informative.

What are you looking most forward to in your residency?

I am looking forward to interacting with the participants and sharing my knowledge and experience. I am excited to see the diverse set of mobile apps that will come out of the workshops I am offering. People have great ideas and showing them how to realize their ideas in the form of a mobile app is extremely rewarding.

For a novice who is interested in pursuing education or a career in mobile app development, what is your advice to them?

Determine which approach best suits you for learning new skills, be it through courses, books, instructional videos, lectures or blogs. Spend an hour a day learning skills and writing code. Explore online resources like GitHub to learn from other developers' code.

This has helped me the most in the past and I still look at open source code for programming techniques and ideas.

Also, read up on what's happening in the field of mobile app development, be it through news articles or technology blogs. Search the Android App Store and the Apple App store and see what people and organizations are developing. Download a couple a week and test them out and examine the interface and the features in the apps. Try to think about why certain mobile apps work better than others.

Also, try to attend tech community events to interact with app developers in your city or community. Meeting like-minded people will help you expand your ideas and you will also get support from the people you meet. You can have them test out your apps and give you feedback. Expose yourself to as much information as you can to get a sense of what specific areas interest you in the field of mobile app development.




Please tell us about the first mobile app that you created. What were the most important things you learned about app development from that process?

The first formal app I created was a contract for OCAD University. I had created several interactive mobile apps as media art projects beforehand, and what I learned the most was that user interaction and experience are key. It’s not just about what information a user is coming to your app for, it's extremely important to give them an exciting experience while they are using your app. Figure out who will be using your app and keep your users engaged. I always apply my knowledge from creating interactive art experiences into building apps. I strongly believe that creating a sense of play is everything. People are curious and the sense of play feeds this curiosity.


What are the must-have apps that you can't do without in your life and why?

I prefer simple apps that have minimal notifications and can be used as tools rather than personal assistants.

My must-have apps right now are Pocket, which is extremely useful for storing and sharing news articles I am reading. It also exposes me to news articles that I would never really find on my own. And Google Keep. Any type of notes or reminders are great for keeping me on task. It has a function for using a photo as a note/reminder, which has proven to be more useful that I thought it would.

I am also drawn to experimental apps that allow for playful experiences. Right now I am playing around with both Grove and Tunnel Vision and thinking about how to create mobile apps that create virtual worlds based on sensing the outside world.


Sarah Goodman Video Editing 101 workshop
Previous residency topics included 3D printing, robotics and filmmaking. Pictured above is filmmaker and former Innovator in Residence Sarah Goodman at the Reference Library.