Homeless Coder Designs Ride-Sharing App to Help the Environment

Leo Grand learned to code while living on the streets and then engineered a mobile app to curb carbon emissions.

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Leo Grand is a staunch environmentalist. His passion for curbing climate change recently prompted him to engineer a ride-sharing app intended to offset carbon emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road.

Leo Grand is also homeless. And he learned to code in just a few months.

In August, Grand was approached on a New York City street by software engineer Patrick McConlogue, who made him an interesting offer—McConlogue would gladly give him $100 or free coding lessons. He chose the latter.

On Dec. 10, the pair launched Trees for Cars, a mobile ride-sharing app written by Grand that connects riders with drivers in the same geographical area. 

"Every car on the road contributes to pollution by emitting CO2," said Grand in a statement. "By using Trees for Cars to find rides in your area, you'll be helping the environment because more carpooling means fewer cars on the road."

The 99-cent app was written after just two months of coding lessons from McConlogue and then refined with his help. But according to CNN, it was Grand's tenacity—which pushed him to practice up to four hours a day on a laptop supplied by his new teacher—that catapulted his success. 

"Every time I figured something out, there was always a new puzzle," Grand told ABC. "So it's that constant mental challenge of getting over hurdle after hurdle after hurdle."  

The Federal Transit Administration reports that about 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are the result of transportation. But switching from single-passenger car rides to more sustainable means of travel can put a dent in those emissions. For those who don't have access to public transportation, and for others who live in areas where cycling just isn't practical, ride sharing can be a more workable solution.

According to McConlogue’s Facebook page, just a day after its launch, Trees for Cars had arranged 242 rides for 607 total commuters, saving more than four tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Grand's coding education may have been quick, but his success isn't as improbable as some might assume. Learning to code in a short amount of time isn't easy, but it is possible. Coding boot camps like App Academy and Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco both teach laypeople how to become entry-level software engineers in eight-to-nine weeks. Students who attend those schools obviously enjoy the comfort of being sheltered in a temperature-controlled building while they learn. 

Leo Grand, however, accomplished the same task in the same amount of time while living on the streets. He remains homeless today, but all the proceeds from his Trees for Cars app are going right back to him.

A former MetLife employee, Grand lost his job in 2011 and was then priced out of his apartment. He's been homeless ever since, but his new skills could rectify that. As he explained to Business Insider, "My life had good moments before this whole thing.... Maybe learning how to do something new will give me more opportunities to have more good moments." 

 

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