California, in the Palm of Your Hand
Looking for the nearest state park to pitch your tent, once you’ve discovered the park you wanted was full?
Interested in finding a bank-owned property in your community?
Robert Meza has an app for that. And that. And that.
Meza ’08 (Computer Science) is the mobile app developer for the California Technology Agency, the state bureau providing support and collaborative leadership on information technology policy for all state departments.
Meza currently works with more than 30 chief information officers, and that figure rises daily as agencies embrace the state’s mobile information strategy. He co-authored the recent state mobility business plan, which plans rapid expansion of mobile technology applications to more than 100 agency websites within the year.
“We’re always looking to follow the market, and we know that people are leaning on their mobile devices more and more,” Meza says. “We’re creating mobile versions of our sites to meet that need.”
Meza’s mobile app is a one-stop shop for valuable real-time state-generated data. Users with any smartphone—iPhone, Android and everything in between—can easily access the app on their phone’s browser at m.ca.gov.
They can, for example, monitor current traffic conditions from the California Highway Patrol office, find the nearest healthcare center through the Department of Public Health or check the status of their tax refund at the Franchise Tax Board.
Working closely with California Technology Agency Secretary Carlos Ramos and some of the state’s top leaders wasn’t in Meza’s crystal ball when he stepped onto Sac State’s campus some 15 years ago.
He says the rigorous math and science curriculum challenged him, but it was the quality of instructors and fellow students that helped him see a future in computer science.
“Sac State taught me to work harder than I ever had to before. We had amazing professors that I learned so much from,” Meza says. “I didn’t have the greatest GPA, but I took three internships that helped me see what I could accomplish.”
Meza worked with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, California Housing Finance Agency and California ISO, then produced a what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind mobile application for his senior project in 2005. After graduation, he interviewed for several private sector positions, but found his calling at the California Technology Agency.
The template he designed for the first state mobile sites in 2009 allowed 15 agencies to optimize their existing websites for the small but growing market of smartphones and tablets in use. The second version added graphics and maps, and this spring Version 3.0 added GPS integration to derive local search results wherever possible, Meza says.
The next phase of development could include an application programming interface, or API, that will allow departments to cross-match their databases for a deeper dig on available information, he says.
Not only does Meza’s work with the app offer a wealth of data, its development saved cash-strapped California upwards of $20 million in developer fees, training and long-term management. That accomplishment helped him earn the Rising Star Award at the recent Distinguished Alumni Awards. He also was recognized with the state’s Outstanding IT Service and Support Award, an honor usually reserved for agency veterans managing multiple projects. When Meza received the award, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger also offered his personal thanks and a photo-op handshake.
Today, Meza travels around the country for national speaking opportunities advising state legislators and sharing—for free—California’s mobile app technology around the country. He’s also a frequent speaker at Sac State, encouraging budding computer scientists to use their senior projects to further their careers, and society.
“We’re years ahead of what any other state is doing in terms of mobile, so it’s exciting to see the direction that we’re going,” Meza says. “And if my work helps other departments and other programs, that’s what we want.”