Purpose and Passion
Senior Thesis=Research+Tome+Unmanageable Title. This may be a traditional equation for the final undergraduate hurdle, but Kyle Benk ’13 is taking that concept to school. A computer science major with a minor in information systems, Benk has, for his thesis, developed a mobile app that lets people create and manage virtual stock portfolios using real-time data as a way to learn how to invest. And its working title? A measly two words, morphed into the soul of brevity: TradeTrainer.
For stock market neophytes or Wall Street chickens, the app lets you “mess around,” Benk says. “It’s something you can dip your feet in. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but if you do like it, you can actually see your money.” The app lets you create portfolios, allocate money, and then watch their performance, all in a virtual format so you aren’t risking real dollars. The more you work with it, Benk says, the more experienced and confident you’ll become in real investing.
Benk, from Bloomsbury, NJ, is the fourth member of his family to attend Washington College. Fascinated by the stock market, he started thinking about how he could combine that interest with his growing skills as a programmer to create a mobile app for his senior thesis. His first foray as an Apple developer came last year when he created an app called Scheduled to help college freshmen manage their time and schedules better. “It’s cool to know that something’s out there that I did,” he says. “This is my second go-round so I know what I’m doing this time, and I’m trying to make it the best it can be.”
Computer Science Professor Austin Lobo says this sort of work ethic and determined attention to detail is typical of Benk, who is also a member of the Alex.Brown Student Investment Fund and Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society. Faculty members chose him to tutor other students in basic programming and computer concepts, and Benk interned last summer at SEI, a global investment management firm in King of Prussia, Pa., where he developed software that tested the data connection between the company’s web platform and databases, and shadowed jobs in sales and investment management.
“It’s this cross-disciplinary thing,” Lobo says. “I have really high hopes for him. I threatened to sign his thesis and stop him from continuing because he already has more than I would expect from an undergrad student, but he says no, it’s not done yet. It doesn’t meet his standards.”
Currently the app is only on Benk’s iPad, where he can tweak it. It uses free stock data from Yahoo! Finance that’s delayed about 20 minutes; if he wanted numbers up to the second, he could pay for that service, but for now the delay doesn’t seem to be a problem, particularly since the goal is to learn over time how your choices react in the market. Benk wants to make the app look more professional. He’s also written a program that enables the app to analyze a stock’s trends, and he’s working on a help screen that will explain why buying or selling a particular stock is a good idea or not.
Scheduled is already free at the App store. And come April or May, you’ll be able to download Benk’s senior thesis yourself, because as they say, there’s an app for that.