Penn College IT alums publish restaurant-search app

Published 03.07.2023

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An idea hatched a few years ago between hungry friends at Pennsylvania College of Technology has become a reality for restaurant-searching smartphone users.

Darren J. Leh and Andrew E. Young, 2021 information technology graduates, recently published Out2Eat on the Apple and Google app stores. The free app facilitates group decision-making on a vital question: Where to eat?

Out2Eat logo“I am beyond proud of Andrew and Darren. To my knowledge, they are my only students who have published an app on the mobile app stores,” said Spyke M. Krepshaw, assistant professor of computer information technology. “As an instructor, it’s not every day that you see students go above and beyond to follow their passion outside of class.”

Out2Eat enables users to sort through pictures, descriptions and reviews of restaurants retrieved from Yelp. Searches are filtered by type of food and restaurant location. When everyone in the designated group swipes right on the same restaurant, they are prompted to vote on whether they want to eat at that establishment.

“We set it up for majority rules so that way you’re not constantly swiping and never coming to a concrete solution,” said Young, a Hollidaysburg native who resides in Watsontown.

“I think the most likely people to use it are groups who are exploring, going out in a new city or traveling to new places,” said Leh, of Fleetwood. “They can all just hop on the app together and find something that they would like.”

That’s what the duo wished they could have done when searching for somewhere new to eat during a “boring” day at school in 2020. By then, Leh and Young had become fast friends after meeting in a database class. Their quest to mutually discover and agree on a restaurant sparked the three-year process that culminated with Out2Eat.

“We were like, ‘If only there was an app for this.’ Around the same time, I was taking a class in web design and Darren was taking a class in software engineering. We just kind of decided, ‘Hey, this is what we should do,’” Young recalled. “We built it originally to be a website and then we were like, ‘No, this needs to be a mobile app. This needs to be something that people can use on their phone.”

They spent months outside of class researching various database, programming and design options. Those efforts intensified after graduating with their bachelor’s degrees in 2021 and starting new jobs: Leh as a software engineer at the WebstaurantStore, an online restaurant supply company, and Young as a web programmer for Penn State’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Devoting countless hours to the app project after work and on weekends became the norm.

“I am not surprised they stuck with it,” Krepshaw remarked. “I remember when they came to me with their idea. I was impressed with their vision at that time and could see that they really wanted to make it a reality.”

“It was a relief, to be honest, when the app was published,” Leh admitted. “Partway through, we were thinking, ‘Is this going to be worth it? Is this something that people will truly enjoy?’ We received positive feedback from family and friends, so we took that as encouragement and motivation to get to where we are now.”

More than 100 people have downloaded Out2Eat since it was published in late January, meeting the duo’s initial expectations.

In devising the app, Leh and Young divided the workload depending on their individual IT strengths. When they encountered roadblocks, they swapped problems so the dilemma could be examined by a fresh pair of eyes.

Pennsylvania College of Technology alumnus Darren J. Leh (left), of Fleetwood, published the Out2Eat restaurant-searching app with fellow alum Andrew E. Young, a Hollidaysburg native currently residing in Watsontown. (Photos provided)“Darren and Andrew have a dynamic that works very well,” Krepshaw said. “Darren is the one who will be up until all hours of the night coding and fixing bugs. Andrew is more the one who is going to look at it in the morning and point out small things that still need attention. They both strive for perfection. They just come at it from different angles.”

The obstacles to creating and publishing the app were varied for the duo, but their Penn College education proved to be a consistent remedy. Leh majored in software development & information management, and Young studied web & interactive media.

“My software engineering background helped with understanding how to create algorithms, interact with external APIs (application programming interfaces) and choosing the best way to construct our application,” Leh said.

“When it came to designing the app, it really helped that I had a strong background in designing websites and had a strong understanding of how to write proper CSS (cascading style sheets language) and apply it,” Young added. “We are grateful for the connection and networking abilities the Penn College experience gave us.”

The friends returned to their Penn College roots last year to test the early stages of the app. Leh and Young met with the Association of Professional Programmers, a club they belonged to while students at the college.

“We had them test the app and show us where the bugs were,” Leh said. “It helped us out a ton.”

The interaction also benefited the students, according to Bahram Golshan, associate professor of computer science and the club’s adviser.

“They got to see how an app is made for the purpose of publication,” Golshan said. “There are additional steps that a developer needs to go through for an app to be published. Students had a chance to see and question the process.”

For Leh and Young, the process continues, despite working remotely 40 hours a week for their respective employers.

“We’re always working on improvements. That will never stop,” Young said.

One possibility is to eliminate Yelp as the provider of restaurant information and descriptions on the app. Instead, Leh and Young would build their own database and charge restaurants a monthly fee to be featured when users search for dining options on Out2Eat.

“The restaurants could give us the information and high-quality images that they want people to see,” Young explained. “They could give us their Facebook star rating, their Google Business rating and other information that Yelp doesn’t provide.”

No matter the future direction of the app, the Penn College grads are confident their vision will be realized.

“For both of us, there is nothing we can’t build on the program side,” Young said.

For information about IT degrees at Penn College and other majors offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free at 800-367-9222.