Reinvigorated by Reading: The Book Reviewing App Inspired by Teacher and Coder, Amanda Neal

When Amanda Neal graduated from Texas State University with a degree in Education and Geographic Information Science (GIS), she decided to pursue a career in teaching. But after a number of fulfilling years as an educator, she was ready to reevaluate her skills and explore a new path.

Amanda had always been interested in technology, and was eager to brush up on the basic coding skills gained in her GIS degree — so she enrolled in The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin

The hands-on programming experience, paired with her background in education, culminated in an impressive project geared toward book lovers. 

The final product? Book Club, a user-friendly app that consolidates book reviews, connects book lovers to stores in the area, and allows for thoughtful two-way conversations between readers. 

The genesis of the app 

An avid reader herself, Amanda saw a gap in the way people find books online. The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way readers sought out new stories — instead of visiting their local bookstores, people were forced to search for recommendations and reviews online. 

“There are so many platforms that you have to sift through to decide if you’re interested in a book,” she explained. “So I thought, ‘Why not create a hub where all readers can search for books and leave reviews, instead of moving between different sites and online stores?’”

Inside the Book Club

The Book Club app caters to students and book lovers alike. Users can create a profile by going to the homepage, entering their email, and creating a username and password. 

Once they are logged in, users can begin searching for books by title or author. If a user is unsure of a book’s title or author, a few associated words will do. The app uses a Google Books application programming interface (API) to render the information accurately. The search yields a list of books, including the title searched for as well as related titles. Next to each book there is a brief synopsis to pique readers’ interest. 

Users can click “Create” to begin writing a new review. Once they submit it, the app will confirm that the review has been submitted successfully. It will also create a time and date stamp. Users can also click the “Your Reviews” tab and see all the books that they have already finished and reviewed. 

When users click on the “Browse” tab, they can view other users’ profiles as well as their completed reviews. 

Though the user interface is simple, the process to create it was more complex. Amanda used various coding languages and programs she was introduced to at the boot camp including Handlebars, JavaScript, SQL, and more

Continued growth and advancement

As a former elementary school teacher, Amanda recognized the educational opportunity provided through an app that encourages reading and reflection. 

“I spoke with our campus principal to potentially introduce the idea to fourth and fifth graders. This is a tool that could be used district-wide, connected to the library system.” 

“Technology is an ongoing process of updating and changing. I’m constantly revisiting ideas to make the app more appealing to my audience, ” Amanda said. She is always thinking about ways to optimize the app and reach more readers. 

Among these opportunities for enhancement are: a five-star rating system, the ability to comment on other reviews and engage in conversation, a redirection page to order from online bookstores, and a redirection page to local bookstores with a map using GIS/ArcMap/Esri and a Google Maps API. 

The future of Book Club

Amanda’s app is currently on the web, but not yet live. Her goal is for the app to become the ultimate digital destination for finding book reviews, locating bookstores, and having thoughtful conversation. She is also hoping to eventually turn a profit by integrating an interface called Stripe to the platform, so readers can make transactions with different bookstores. Thanks to the boot camp, she is well on her way. 

“I wouldn’t have known where to start without the boot camp,” Amanda said. “I had almost come to terms with the fact that I was going to teach for the rest of my life. This opportunity was the silver lining of [quarantine]. While teaching from home, I had more time to explore new opportunities.” 

Amanda is now leveraging her experience in education and coding as International Baccalaureate Coordinator for Manor Independent School District, and as a freelance web developer. She hopes to continue working on Book Club full-time in the future. 

Interested in discovering what you’re capable of — and creating a passion project of your own? Explore UT Austin Boot Camps in coding, data analytics, UX/UI, cybersecurity, and digital marketing today.

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