The Music of Code: Daniel Yu Builds Project SAM, Saving Lives via SMS

Daniel YuDaniel Yu (pictured right) wanted to be a professional composer. After years of practice, he was accepted to two of the nation’s top music conservatories–and chose not to go. Daniel decided not to study music in college at all. Instead, he started coding. Two years later, he developed a platform that’s helping save lives in developing countries via SMS.

A few months ago, Daniel and his fellow classmates at the University of Chicago, launched Project SMS Account Management to help health clinics in developing countries track medicine shipments via text. The goal is to increase communication between the clinic, the patient, and the shipper so health workers have the supplies they need to save lives.

Daniel saw first hand what a lack of infrastructure can do to a health clinic during a summer trip to Egypt  and Jordan. Papers were everywhere, there was no single point of truth for patient’s records and no timetable for shipments of medicine.

Daniel's QuoteProject SAM team member, Cindy Siu, was in Peru at the same time Daniel was abroad. Cindy worked with local health clinics to help tuberculosis patients in the area but saw a serious problem. Health clinics would frequently run out of tuberculosis medicine. Many tuberculosis patients’ recovery depended on taking the right medicine at the right time. When supplies ran out, patients suffered.

After their trips abroad, Daniel and Cindy returned to the University of Chicago to build Project SAM, and expanded their team. The service is now live in more than 20 health clinics in Peru. Health workers use Twilio SMS to log what medicine they need, when, and in what quantity. Daniel hopes to include additional features to the service by using Twilio voice prompts so health workers can easily log inventory and track data. “For example, a nurse could just call a Twilio number and be automatically prompted with the question ‘How much medication do you need?’ Then they can press ‘9’ instead of logging that information on a paper spreadsheet,” says Daniel.

At the end of our interview, I asked Daniel what he saw as the difference between writing music and writing code. Instead, he pointed out the similarities between the two. “The end result of composing is to give music for musicians to perform. With coding, the end result is to build a great UX and something people can actually use.”

While Daniel may have put music on hold, it seems he’s still composing. Whether he’s writing music or code, his goal is still the same: to build something for good, that people can use.

Project SAM hopes to expand into Northern Africa, as well as Nepal soon. You can find more information at their website here.  Listen the podcast “Project SAM Saving Lives via SMS” in podcast form below.