Co-op student uses computer science and psychology skills to help bring people joy through a mental health app

authorWhen Colorful Zone needed a helping hand to launch their mobile app Joyi, they looked to emerging talent like co-op students for solutions.

The mental health education company needed a unique set of skills and found the help they were looking for in Waterloo co-op student Rastin Rassoli (he/him). A second-year Computer Science student with a minor in Psychology, Rassoli spent his co-op term at Colorful Zone helping to develop the Joyi app.

Colorful Zone focuses on supporting daily mental health through behavioral science, technology, storytelling, data and positive experiences. Founder and CEO of Colorful Zone, Negar Yaghoobi (she/her), launched the startup in 2018. The company’s first major project was the development of the Joyi mobile app.

“Backed by behavioral science, Joyi helps you obtain a growth mindset by investing in your mental health. In simple words, Joyi aims to make people happy,” explains Rassoli.

The app is a game where Joyi, a virtual character, takes care of the user's happiness by filling jars. There are five jars that each focus on a particular element: mindfulness, togetherness, meaningfulness, curiosity and health. By keeping the jars full, users can develop a growth mindset, learn resilience skills and balance positive and negative emotions.

“Our responsibility as a user is to keep these jars full. To fill our jars, we press a button and see very fun and engaging content, something like reels on Instagram and Tiktok,” says Yaghoobi. “We did research for three years on behavior science and how we can improve it through artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.”

Joyi uses algorithms to personalize a user’s jars and offers lessons that best suit the individual user. When it was time to start designing and developing the complex app, Yaghoobi anticipated that Colorful Zone would face several challenges to find the right solution. To help, the company hired their first co-op student.

From co-op student to project owner

Rassoli started as a part-time intern before being hired full-time for an official co-op work term. His role included responsibilities to help prepare the app for its official launch in August 2022. The work required long hours to learn everything he needed to know about mobile app development. Eventually, his hard work earned him the title of product owner.

“He was so passionate. I was so impressed that he did this job at his age and was so hard-working. He is a very good problem solver and has a very good startup mindset,” says Yaghoobi.

Because the app combines mobile development with mental health theory, his unique skillset was invaluable to the team. “I knew I could bring so much value to the Joyi team due to my knowledge of both software engineering and psychology,” says Rassoli.

The Colorful Zone team includes tech experts who believe in enabling students to build on their existing skills while acquiring the technical skills required for mobile development. Through the experience of working in back-end mobile development, Rassoli had the opportunity to fine-tune his skills. The team mentored him and trained him for success.

“With the help of Colorful Zone's tech mentors, I learned all the required frameworks for developing Joyi in less than a month. I think it was the most knowledge-acquiring month of my life!” says Rassoli.

The road to success

Yaghoobi and Rassoli both attribute their success to good communication skills and collaborative teamwork. According to Yaghoobi, these skills are vital in a startup environment.

“As a founder of a small startup, it is important to learn how to communicate with students and bring them in to do work. If we have this ability to communicate with them and work with them and their own style, then they are going to bring value to startups,” says Yaghoobi.

In his role, Rassoli is responsible for communicating with several teams to ensure the product's success including science, technology, design and sales. “I learned how much clear communication, effective teamwork and purposeful work could add to a team,” says Rassoli.

Working on Joyi was an unforgettable experience for Rassoli. “Each time I see our user's play with Joyi, and it brings a smile to their faces, I feel absolutely delighted.”

According to Rassoli, the most memorable part of his experience was using technology to develop a meaningful product to help make the lives of user's better.