Interview with Scott Lock, National Zoo App Developer

Guest post from Charlotte Beckhurst, Hartsbrook E-ACT Free School.


Scott Lock, Windows 8 NationaL Zoo App developer and co-founder of InfernoRed Technology, shares with us his beginnings and experience of app development, his vision for the future of technology and of course a little bit about himself.

What inspired you to design you National Zoo?
My kids, no doubt. They wanted to take the zoo cams with them wherever they wanted to go. We love the zoo and there was no app out on any platform at the time for National Zoo. I am also a big fan of Windows Phone and a user group leader who was talking about it all the time. I thought that I needed to build something substantial in order to have some credibility.

How did you go about making the National Zoo app?
The app was built on my own time, usually from 10PM to 1AM most nights. It took a while to get everything working while the tools were still evolving. I was very careful to make sure I read the Terms of Use for Smithsonian since this is not an Official Application of the Smithsonian institution. I also wanted it to be authentic so I used publically available material from Flickr and the website for content, background images, etc. The content is all Smithsonian, all I am doing is making it easier for users of Windows Phone to access Smithsonian’s content.

Did you have any prior development or coding experience?
Yes, I’ve been building software for over 17 years. Almost exclusively on the Microsoft platform.

What language/programming tools did you use to develop National Zoo?
The Windows Phone and Windows 8 applications are written in XAML and C#. I used Visual Studio 2012 on Windows 7 and 8 to do most of the work. I also built the Windows Phone version using a Samsung Focus.

Aside from programming, what skills are used to create and launch an app?
Patience and the ability to work on little sleep. Building an app, like most creative processes, takes over your mind and life. Once you start, all you want to do is work on the app. At least that’s how it was for me. I couldn’t wait until I got home to work on finishing a feature or the next feature.

Do you have any recommendations/advice for people who want to create their own app?
My advice is “just build something”. I hear so often from developers “I don’t have an idea” or “my idea has already been done”. Just take whatever your concept is and start. Starting is by far the hardest thing to do. Once you get going though you will find that it’s hard to stop.

Your vision for the future of technology
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in technology today?
No question – mobile technology. Phones, tablets, and the evolution of the PC. Touch and natural user interfaces are the way our children are growing up with technology. I was at the library with my kids and watched how this little 4 yearr old girl use the library computer. It was an older touch screen monitor but she was a natural. She just walked up to it and naturally moved the fruit from the table to a basket in a counting game. No direction, she just did it. Software should be this easy to use all the time.

What apps would you recommend to use as educational tools?
National Zoo of course! Besides that I like to use Khan Academy with my kids. They have done such a great job of putting an incredible amount of knowledge on the web and making it easily digestible by young minds. I also like “Flash Cards” on Windows 8. Great tool for teaching basic math.

Your Educational Background and Contributions to the World of Education
What drew you to the field you work in? Why is it important to you?
I’ve always been interested in computers. I used to copy the program from the back of the manual of an old TI-99A when I was kid to see if I could get the “slot machine” program to run before my older brother came in and kicked me out of his room. I can’t explain why I am addicted to technology and information. I’m easily distracted which makes it a tough field to be in as there are so many distractions to choose from. Its important to me to do things that make a difference. I love the fact that sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes the things I build or help build touch someone’s life in a positive way.

Can you tell us about someone who has inspired you?
My wife Laura has inspired me. Call me old fashioned but we have been through some incredibly difficult times that could have ended completely differently for her and for me. She showed me in our mid 20’s that if we could get through the type of things we had to overcome and be stronger after that anything is possible. I know that sounds campy but until you have gone through life changing and threatening situations, you just don’t appreciate how strong we can all be.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in technology? What has changed as a result of your work?
I’m not sure that what I’ve done has advanced innovation, but I am proud of the fact that I did something that has touched people’s lives. The National Zoo app was built totally and completely because my wife and kids love the zoo. We go often and they wanted to see the zoo cams every day. I didn’t think that when I built the app for this new platform Windows Phone (and eventually Windows 8) that anyone would actually be interested in this app. After I received a few emails thanking me for building it and then users sharing inspiring stories of how they used it I knew it was something special. The thing that has changed for me is that I now see how much of an impact one idea can have on a large number of people. All it takes is just one person to smile or inspired by something we create to make all of the time work it.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I had to overcome a “technical” hurdle recently with the web cams. We have implemented a solution using Wowza media server and Windows Azure VM hosting which I think is cool. Pretty soon all the cameras will be viewable again on both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. I’m excited to get that update out soon.

How did you get into app development?
I’ve been developing software for over 17 years. I’m pretty sure it started back in that small house in Erie, PA when I was about 10yrs old hacking on that TI-99A. I was the one that always went to the local K-Mart and typed in 10 Print “Scott Lock” followed by 20 GOTO 10.

scott lock

Quick Facts About Scott

• Name: Scott Lock
• Job title: Co-Founder
• Organization name:
• Twitter handle: @scottlock
• Birthplace: Erie, Pennsylvania, USA
• Current residence: Ashburn, VA USA
• Education: Gannon University, Bach. Of Science, Management Info Systems
• Website I check every day:, Engadget,
• Person who inspires me most: My Wife Laura
• Next travel destination (work or pleasure): San Francisco, Intel Dev Conf
• When was the last time you laughed? Today when my son was dancing at the pool
• Favorite book: Angels and Demons
• Favorite music: All music!
• What is the best advice you have ever received? Don’t worry about the money. Work hard on something that you are passionate about and the money will come.

To download the National Zoo App, please click here and here

You can read more about the National Zoo app on the Microsoft Schools Blog.

Plus of course, don’t forget to check out the National Zoo website!

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