UAE-based Filipino student among winners of Apple's WWDC coding challenge

Alvin R. Cabral/Dubai
Filed on June 2, 2021
App developers are getting younger thanks to easy-to-use tools such as those from Apple.

Pandemic has made 12-year-old Sabrina Sales realise how people have become very dependent on technology, and she's doing her part

A 12-year-old Filipino residing in Abu Dhabi was among the winners of Apple's annual competition for student coders, and she's among the growing number of young guns globally turning their ideas into reality with the help of the iPhone maker's software and ecosystem of developers.

Sabrina Sales' announcement of being among the winners of the Swift Student Challenge is part of the run-up to this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple's biggest industry gathering outside of its iPhone launch.

Sales has been watching the WWDC since 2017, and hopes to one day attend in person. The fallout of the coronavirus pandemic will be keeping the event in a virtual format for the second year running, but she won't mind the wait.

"I want to attend the WWDC to meet and learn from other developers," she quipped.

WWDC21 will run from June 7-11.

Sales is part of the proud batch of new winners for this year's edition, joining the likes of Gianna Yan from California, who created Feed Fleet, an app that pairs volunteers with at-risk individuals to deliver essential goods right to their doorstep; Abinaya Dinesh from New Jersey, who made Gastro at Home, offering people with gastrointestinal disorders a way to access information and resources; and Damilola Awofisayo of Virginia with her TecHacks, a non-profit that describes its mission as “creating a supportive environment for girls everywhere to create, problem-solve, and showcase their talents alongside like-minded females to compete and work with".

'Pet' project

Sales said her passion for coding started when she was seven years old, and it only grew stronger — as if keeping in step with the fast pace of innovation.

UAE-based Filipino student among winners of Apple's WWDC coding challenge (

Being new to her school at that time, she decided to join the programming club stemming from her interest in computers. After using an app called Hopscotch to learn block coding, she started with Swift Playgrounds in 2016 right when it came out.

Then she willed herself to learn Apple's XCode, mostly from online tutorials, and continued to apply what she had learned in the projects she was working on.

Currently, Sales is working on an app called Haiku’s Home, which aims to match abandoned pets with loving homes and owners.

The endeavour is quite challenging — the code to implement the idea "more complex", as she describes it — so she's taking longer.

But "I will continue to work hard on it as this is something that is really important to me", she promised.

The pandemic has also made Sales realise how people have become very dependent on technology, with education's dynamics counting as one of the most affected.

"Being a student who has just entered secondary school during the ongoing pandemic, I’m very conscious that we’ve gotten highly dependent on technology to continue our education," she added.

"E-learning and collaboration tools that can help students and teachers are and will continue to be critical in the next few years."

And for those who want to follow her and others' footsteps who have taken on the coding challenge, she has three pieces of advice.

"First, create something you’re passionate about. Secondly, if you’re stuck on something, take a break and do something completely different. Seeing the problem with fresh eyes helps immensely," Sales stresses.

"Lastly, the best way to learn how to code is to code. It’s easy to be intimidated thinking that it may be too hard, but if you break it down into small challenges and be disciplined to just keep at it you might amaze yourself at what you can accomplish."

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