An Apple a Day
Computer Science grad lands job at apple after developing popular apps, working several high-level internships.
At age 11, Robert Stewart created a game on his laptop that involved an impending storm and helping a family of stick people running from their home in panic.
Apple’s App Store had launched the year before, and the novelty of using mobile devices to download applications was immense. Stewart took advantage of this opening in the market and submitted his game for review.
Within weeks, he was notified that his app was accepted for publication. Soon after its release, Stewart offered up a free version, Stick Escape lite, which peaked as the fourth most downloaded free app with up to 73,000 downloads a day, totaling 1.5 million downloads to date.
Now, after the publication of several additional apps, a 2016 internship with Apple and two trips as a student scholarship winner to the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Stewart has a job lined up with the tech giant immediately after graduation.
The company’s non-disclosure agreement means Stewart can’t reveal his future job responsibilities, but he admits that he’s excited to work in the hub of the tech industry.
“The Apple platform is what gave me the opportunity to create apps, and what gave me my start in programming, so I have a long history there,” Stewart said. “Having an opportunity to work for a company that makes products I love is pretty awesome.”
An Early Start
Stewart was homeschooled and began taking college classes as a sophomore in Portland, Ore. Now 19, the Bipasesores Outstanding Senior award recipient graduates this May with a bachelor’s degree in computer science after five semesters at the College of Engineering.
As a National Merit Scholar, Stewart meticulously researched rankings among several universities’ engineering programs. He landed on U of I, in part, because of the department’s emphasis on cybersecurity.
During the fall of 2015, Stewart assisted Jim Alves-Foss, professor in computer science, in preparing for the Cyber Grand Challenge sponsored by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The competition pitted renowned security analysts against some of the world’s most sophisticated hackers to test the capabilities of the teams’ software in detecting and patching network vulnerabilities when under attack. The ultimate goal was to create an automated cybersecurity system that could detect threats without human assistance.
Stewart’s role was collecting data on various vulnerabilities in binary code, the number system that represents all computer data. He left the project in spring 2016 for an internship at Apple, which helped solidify his desire to work for the company.
“I’ve chosen, at least for now, the industry route rather than grad school or research,” Stewart said. “Cybersecurity is something that’s vitally important that I want to be aware of, though. Having the exposure I did during my education at U of I is really valuable.”
Gaining Industry Experience
Stewart’s first internship, at age 15, was at Portland-based Synapticats, where he performed software quality assurance and testing. The following year he extended what was supposed to be a summer-long internship at Intel in Portland into a 14-month internship. There he helped manage an inventory database of upcoming chipsets and other hardware.
His freshman year, Stewart interned at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) in Pullman. There he worked on developing and testing a component for a software-defined networking controller — new software SEL created to manage network failures without relying on a human on the other end.
Stewart credits that experience for teaching him “how to work with other software engineers toward a common goal.”
From there, Stewart went onto his Apple internship, followed by a stint at Microsoft in the summer 2016, where he worked on two different projects — one with Microsoft’s Corporate, External and Legal Affairs group, creating architecture that would allow users to search for legal data on one of Microsoft’s platforms. The other involved developing a tool that would allow engineers to visualize the software testing process and identify the root cause of a failure in the test system.
Stewart is no doubt ahead of the curve. But along the way, he’s remained grounded while attending U of I. He’s played intramural ultimate Frisbee, Wednesday night volleyball, and a lot of pickup basketball.
The sophisticated software projects he’s worked on during his college career are a long way from the app he developed eight years ago.
Stewart still remembers one reviewer who critiqued Stick Escape: “The reviewer said, ‘This looks like it was made by a 12-year old.’ And I was like, ‘Well, I was 11, so you know.’”
“It all feels normal to me because it’s just how my life has been,” Stewart said. “But there’s a lot out there that I don’t know that I want to learn.”
Article by Kate Keenan, College of Art and Architecture