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App success for computer programmer

Posted on 14 July 2015

Sam Heather, 21, from Probus in Cornwall, learnt to code at the age of 9 and released an app at 15 which has now been used over 22 million times worldwide. Developing some 20 apps since, he came to York to study Computer Science, completing summer internships at Google and Morgan Stanley. Following graduation, he will launch his latest business venture, safety app pingWHEN.

Sam Heather

Sam says: “I love writing code, and the feeling that you are creating a practical system that will make a difference in people’s lives.  At 15, I launched the first mobile anonymous web browser, called Branon, in 2009. This became a great success, and I have developed various apps since in my spare time.

“In 2013, I received an email from the Department telling me about a one day event at Google. I attended and, after some separate interviews, was subsequently offered an internship at Google’s European headquarters in Zurich. In the summer of 2014, I completed a placement at Morgan Stanley, then was invited to an amazing event called Yacht Hack – the opportunity to spend a week on a boat in Croatia, writing code. Here I met Julie Markham, my co-founder of pingWHEN.

“pingWHEN is a personal safety app that sends automated messages for when you arrive to a destination, or if you don't. A powerful artificial intelligence is being developed that constantly watches over your journey, so that it can spot an irregularity in real time and let your chosen friend or family member know to contact you. It also fulfils a need for those nights when your friends say "text me so I know you are safe" but you forget. The app is for that "just in case", providing information to your loved ones including where you were going, when you were supposed to arrive, and a link of where you were last located in the event you appear to have a problem on your journey and don’t tell the app that you’re ok.”

pingWHEN has so far received $120k in US investment through the prestigious TechStars business accelerator programme, and Sam will be based at Warner Yard in London for six months to complete the programme. He also recently presented the idea at the University of York’s Plan ENVY (Exciting New Ventures at York) event, winning both the main prize of investment of £2000 and the 'Most innovative product' prize of £500. 

Sam adds: “I have thoroughly enjoyed my three years at York studying Computer Science. The enthusiasm of the department, friends I’ve made and proximity to a beautiful city have made it a brilliant place to be!”

Sam will graduate with a BEng (First Class Honours) in Computer Science.