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From Hotspot to TigerJunction, student developers build apps to improve campus life

A gray building with black windows above. In the foreground, green grass. On the left, in black text: FRIEND CENTER.
The Friend Center for Engineering Education houses COS 333.
Ammaar Alam / The Daily Princetonian

Any Princeton student that wishes to enter Tiger Inn or Ivy Club on a Thursday or Saturday night must present the formidable bouncers with the secret password: their Hotspot QR code. 

Hotspot, an app launched in the fall of 2022 by three Princeton students, Ayo Oguntula ’23, Dylan Porges ’23, and Marie Sirenko ’25, has quickly replaced the printed list system for entering parties at several of the University’s eating clubs, as well as at Greek Life on 5 other college campuses.


Hotspot is just one of several widely-used, student-developed apps that aim to improve campus life.

While Hotspot is focused on Princeton's social scene, TigerJunction, built by Joshua Lau '26, has helped students to prepare their academic schedules for fall course selection — an important tool, as TigerHub has faced technical difficulties in the past.

While most campus-oriented apps are created in COS 333: Advanced Programming Techniques, Princeton’s web application development course, some students pursue such projects independently of the course. Many of these apps are centralized through TigerApps, a student-run organization that maintains and supports student-developed web applications on campus.

The creators of both Hotspot and TigerJunction spent months developing their applications independently, looking to enhance the student experience through technology. The Daily Princetonian spoke with the developers of these applications to learn more about the development process, how they help students, and what the future holds for these digital mainstays of the Princeton experience.

Identifying a Need on Campus

In November 2021, juniors Oguntula and Porges were looking for a designer for the beta version of their startup, Hotspot, and a mutual friend directed them to Sirenko, who was, at that time, a first-year. Hotspot was created as a solution to the “inefficiencies of the eating club system,” Sirenko explained.   


Hotspot — not to be confused with the University’s gray devices used to validate student proxes, which bear the same name — is a tool for managing guests for social events. If an eating club is hosting a party, it can add its members to the event and give them the same number of guest spots. Then, guests use the QR code on their invitation to gain access to the event. 

“The social chairs [of eating clubs] would be using five different platforms, like sending a Google form to put guests on the list,” Sirenko said. “They would send an email to publicize it, text about updates in the GroupMe, and have people check paper lists at the door. If it was a ticketed event, they’d have to use a fully different platform. With Hotspot, you can do all of that in one place.”

Hotspot is designed to manage the sweet spot between large, ticketed events and small, friend group functions. 

“There wasn’t really something in between that space, where it had the functionality that you need [for an event], but had more of a casual, friendly atmosphere,” Sirenko explained. 

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As a first-year, Lau, a self-taught programmer and ECE major, was frustrated with ReCal’s outdated features. With TigerJunction, he looked to integrate multiple TigerApps used for course selection into one app. Lau released the beta version in the fall of 2023 and debugged it during Wintersession of this year. It officially became a TigerApp in the beginning of the spring semester.

Lau’s improved version of ReCal contains advanced search features, allowing students to search by distribution requirements, by courses that don’t conflict with ones already selected, by levels, and by ratings from Princeton Courses.

"A new puzzle to solve every single time": Tackling the challenges of software development

While the Hotspot team had a strong vision for the function of the app, the beta version didn’t work well. Sirenko and the two developers redesigned it from scratch.

“We didn’t even use the same code, we kind of took the same feature ideas but completely remapped it so that it’d be user-focused,” Sirenko said. 

When they launched again a year later, in the fall of 2022, they enhanced the app to include social features, allowing users to see what events their friends are attending or have attended. The app also has built-in privacy, hiding the activity of users that aren’t mutual friends. 

As the designer, Sirenko was responsible for doing product research, communicating with users to determine their needs, and designing features in the app to fit those needs. Once she conceptualized what the app would look like, she created sketches and then mockups on Adobe XD. 

Sirenko, currently studying neuroscience and art, applied the intersections of consumer behavior and art to her designs.

“In connection to my academic background, I love to see the ways that you can apply principles from behavior and decision-making research in order to make apps that are very intuitive and human-centered,” Sirenko said.

After Sirenko completed her designs, the developers looked at a particular design feature, like buttons, and implemented the visual elements like the font color, height, width, and shadow effect.

Johnny Ramirez ’26, one of the group’s two front-end developers, explains he loves working on the static features of the app, while others, like animation, are more difficult for him from a technical standpoint.

“It’s been really cool working on the story feature,” Ramirez said. “After you go to a party, you can post pictures and upload them and see all your friends’ pictures. It was really funny because when we were testing it, [the team] took horrible selfies and we could see each other.”

Hotspot team members also use their own product to access the social scene on campus, informing their work on the application. 

“I think we’ve benefited that everyone who works on the app uses it. It’s a living thing,” Ramirez noted. “It’s helpful because if anything pops up, either a friend or one of us will point it out and we can address it pretty quickly.”

Ramirez taught himself React Native, the framework used for the app, in high school. He also previously developed the mobile app for The Daily Princetonian, his first project.

“After [the ‘Prince’ app], I felt pretty confident in my skills, so I had a smooth transition into Hotspot,” Ramirez said.

Some of the features the team improved, for instance, were the placement of the QR code and event information. Initially, accessing the QR code at the door was a three-step process, making it confusing and time-consuming for users. Additionally, the team made the event information visible immediately after users open the app.

For Lau, creating TigerJunction took three completely new attempts from scratch. 

“The first attempt was my first attempt at making large-scale software, but it was a terrible mess. The second attempt was a little bit better, but then I decided to do it from scratch again. I arguably could have fixed it up and built on top of it, but in software development you can always restart wherever you are, because you never have a perfect code base. You have to just choose a moment where it's good enough to build more advanced features on top of it,” Lau said. 

The product of Lau’s process, TigerJunction is the “ugly duckling of the TigerApps,” he said. It is the only TigerApp that uses Svelte as a framework, and the only one that did not begin as a COS 333 project. 

“Most of the other apps coming out of COS 333 are a lot more self-contained,” Lau said. “They’re constrained by the class [timeframe], which does not allow students to take bigger risks,” Lau explained. “I initially planned to get this out in two months, but it’s been nine months [as of April 2024], and it’s still developing.”

Lau said the process of coding is starkly different from what most people envision. 

“It’s a very iterative experience, going back and forth between coding and planning,” Lau noted. “You watch a hacker movie, and they’re sitting there going like, ‘I’m in’, you know, but that’s like 10 percent of the work — 90 percent is planning.”

While Lau had an ambitious vision for TigerJunction before beginning to program it, he radically changed his initial plans in the current version of the app.

“I drew out this giant diagram with everything it was going to be. Fifty percent of things have changed, 50 percent have stayed the same,” Lau said. “It’s always changing.”

During the seven or so months it took him to create and launch the app, Lau’s progress was nonlinear. 

“Exams and losing motivation get in the way. In reality, its plan, execute, ‘oh no, there’s a bug, I’ll save that for later,’ let’s do the next feature because that’s more exciting than debugging,” Lau said.

Since its launch, Lau has run into several roadblocks, which has forced him to always be vigilant over the app, especially during the add/drop period. 

“I want to sincerely apologize to anyone who used the app during winter break, because you probably ran into one of the million issues at the time,” Lau joked. “But there was this thing where if you went into the application, and you had zero things in your schedule, it would just crash, which is bad because any new user immediately starts with zero.”

While debugging can be frustrating, Lau invites the challenge.

“[Debugging] is kind of like a new puzzle to solve every single time. It's not like a p-set where you submit the solution, and if it’s wrong, you get zero points. If I can see it doesn’t work, I can try something different,” Lau explained.

Aside from TigerJunction, Lau is a developer for the TigerApps team, helping to onboard new apps which entails transferring databases, changing the hosting infrastructure, communicating with USG for any necessary funding, and fixing bugs. However, because TigerJunction was created entirely by Lau and is constantly in development he has maintained ownership over it, despite its status as a TigerApp.

“Pretty much like if I disappeared off the face of the earth today, no one can maintain it,” Lau said. “Like, it would just crash and burn at some point, probably during add/drop.

Looking ahead

Ramirez does not use Hotspot for his own eating club, Cottage Club. Beyond TI and Ivy, Ramirez says Princeton’s eating clubs have been slow to change their technologies, largely due to pressure from higher-up restrictions, such as from their grad boards.  

“They have a lot of concern for what kind of features they would want to add,” Ramirez said, “but they’re also very hesitant to introduce new technology when they already have a working system.”

Adding another eating club would not dramatically change the Hotspot’s business anyway, because many students on campus already use Hotspot. Instead, the team is prioritizing expanding to other campuses.

A year and a half after its launch, the application has grown to 9,000 users across 5 campuses. Most recently, Hotspot has added a ticketing feature the team launched for ticketed events at Yale and UCLA.

In the future, the team hopes to encourage more activity within smaller groups than eating clubs, like friend groups.

“We’ve had birthdays, but would love it if people hosted like a little movie night. We did a big revamp this summer in terms of the social features and have been seeing more of that [activity] so that’s something I'm excited about,” Sirenko explained. “Our main goal is to make Hotspot a place where people can spontaneously connect with their friends and do more fun things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

When he’s not managing other students’ apps, Lau is working on improving and expanding TigerJunction. His next addition will be CourseGenie, which he plans to emulate TigerPath, a four-year course planner, but still integrated with Recal+. His ultimate goal is for TigerJunction to incorporate all TigerApps for course selection into one multifaceted tool, allowing students to view course evaluations, make multi-year plans, and set up notifications for open spots in full courses. 

Lau plans to expand the features of existing TigerApps, like TigerPath, in CourseGenie, allowing students to select multiple majors, as well as certificates and minors, to chart their progress and different potential paths. The app will feature a big table view, an easier way to search for classes, including information like distribution requirements, their rating, and how likely it is to fill. He also hopes this next stage of TigerJunction will be able to incorporate prerequisites to advise students on classes as a supplement to academic advisers, potentially integrating ChatGPT in some capacity.

“It won’t be good as an adviser who has knowledge in their field of expertise, but it will provide a different insight,” Lau said. “No adviser has actually read through the description of all 1400 courses across time and every single review they have.”

After dedicating 150 hours to coding TigerJunction, Lau is enthusiastic about coding for its potential to create solutions to problems he sees in the real world. On campus, that means providing students with a resource to support the development of their academic careers.  

“I fundamentally don’t love to code,” Lau notes. “I love to make things. Software engineering is the easiest way to create a solution to a problem. You have the power to see a creation you want to see exist, no matter how stupid or big the idea is.”

Valentina Moreno is an assistant Features editor for the ‘Prince.’

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