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August 8, 2014

Developing Stories: Trekkit Traveller

A self-professed “keyboard cowboy,” Ryan Groom is not your typical app developer.

Yes, he loves technology as much as the next computer geek. He has a deep well of expertise in computer programming, IT security and software development. But the New Brunswick, Canada-based developer also inspires people to unplug themselves from their computers and use smart devices thoughtfully to explore the world, from Iceland’s fjords to the nature trails and parks in their own communities.


One way he does that is through Trekkit Traveller, an app Ryan created with the help of AppCampus, a 21-million euro partnership between Microsoft and Aalto University.

The aim – coaching and financing Windows Phone developers in mobile technology, design and usability.


Exclusive to Windows Phone, Ryan’s robust Trekkit Traveller app lets you geo-tag locations on a map, add photos, videos, and even voice-over narration, then upload the whole shebang into a “trekk” and share it via social media or email.

One big plus of Trekkit Traveller is that you don’t have to be connected to the internet to build your trekk. That’s super-handy if you’re in a remote location such as the Galapagos Islands (hey, dream big!).

The next version of Trekkit Traveller, available this fall, will also compile all your photos and videos into a slideshow.

Exploring out-of-the way places
Another way Ryan encourages people to explore the great outdoors is through his Canadian television show, also called Trekkit. What’s cool: the show is shot partly with his Lumia 1020 and other Lumia smartphones! 

Now in its third season, Trekkit’s four-man crew explores the nooks and crannies of out-of-the way places such as the West-African country of Benin and the Scottish highlands.

Here is the video trailer documenting Trekkit’s excursion to Iceland. The full 29-minute episode will air this fall:

Trekkit airs on the Bell Aliant Community One channel in Canada and may be available in more countries later this year. But you don’t have to wait for Trekkit to come to your television screen. You can watch all the episodes via the free Trekkit TV app.

Q&A with Ryan
We recently caught up with Ryan before he and his crew set off on a week-long excursion to climb rugged Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. We asked him how he got into app development and why and how he decided to add “chief adventurer” to his many job titles.


How did you get your start in technology? Did you go to school for a computer-science degree?

I found a job in the computer industry at 19 and went from there. I worked in the IT department for a school district, and my job was to make sure the computers in the province’s 18 schools ran well.

I had a great mentor. He took me to a lot of senior-level meetings and we built some of the schools’ first computer networks. I was there for four years and that’s where I say that I got my bachelor’s degree in life.

I also wrote my first two software programs while I was there. One was for teachers and the other was a subscription-management program for a local newspaper. Both programs are still in use!

Tell us more about AppCampus, the mobile application accelerator program funded by Microsoft and Aalto University. That sounds like it was a fantastic opportunity for you.

One of the most valuable things I got out of AppCampus was thinking about and planning Trekkit Traveler from soup to nuts. Before that, I was a figure-it-out-as-I-go kind of guy. I had to architect the whole solution – every screen, every button. That’s a good discipline to learn.

The Q and A review of the app was also really great. The tester was awesome. She was brutally honest and tested the heck out of it. Now, the quality of all my apps are so much better as a result.

Why did you become a developer? And why work on the Windows Phone platform?

Developing apps is a non-artistic person’s way to create art. I love to process, create, brainstorm, and I love building things that people use.

I’m kind of a Windows fan boy. I love how the Windows Phone Start screen is very personal to me. I love customizing it and I love how my Lumia connects to Office 365. It just works for me.I have developed for Android and iPhone apps, but I find Android noisy and the iOS platform limiting.

Do you have any tips you want to share with aspiring app developers?

Pick a project that’s small. Think, “What’s the one little thing that I can create?” Don’t start out with learning code. Pick a simple app. For Windows, use Visual Studio. Nothing else compares, and I’ve tried them all.

Tell us how and why you used Lumia smartphones to help shoot video for your show.

Our crew – we’re photographers, and three out of four of us use Lumias. Also, we don’t like traveling with a lot of gear. When I can’t get the shot with a big camera, I use the Lumia 1020. Its capabilities are like, wow!

Why did you create this TV show? After all, you don’t have a background in filmmaking or television production.

When we first started doing the TV show, people said, ‘You can’t do that. You don’t know anything about that.’ I hate negativity. Negativity kills creativity. Now, we’re in our third season.

I love the geology of travel. For the first 40 hours in Iceland, we didn’t sleep because there was so much to see. We went to a lot of places that tourists don’t go to. I’ve seen the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, a 6,000-year old volcano, lava fields. What man creates can never compare to the art of nature.

I love to travel for the high of the experience. It’s the high of the uniqueness and the diversity of culture and scenery. The universe is much bigger than your own problems. Nature is there whether you are or not!

Do you find Ryan’s story inspiring? Check out Trekkit Traveler and the Trekkit show. Then, tell us where your next adventure will take you!

For aspiring developers, check out AppCampus and Microsoft BizSpark.