While it's widely accepted that most 12-year-olds are comfortable using iPhone apps, it's not common that many 12-year-olds can code up their own. Meet Thomas Suarez, who has created two of his own. Both are distributed by Carrot Corp, the startup Thomas founded, but cannot legally own because he's under 18 (his father is listed as the company's president). Hundreds of downloads later, the prodigious sixth grader's choice for what to do next seems to be the only thing that fits into his age group's sensibilities: that's right, he spent his profits on an Xbox.
Last month the Manhattan Beach, California kid developer spoke about his burgeoning career and the technology gap separating young and old at TEDx conference about ideas worth spreading. At TEDxManhattan Beach, the young man took the microphone with confidence and smiles, speaking quite effectively and intelligently to an older crowd.
Here you can see him on stage, talking about how he created his apps with the iPhone SDK, some Python scripting and support from one of his teachers. He has amazing stage presence too.
"These days students usually know a little more than teachers with the technology," he said to a chorus of amused laughs. "Not many parents know how to make apps!"
Thomas, a self-taught programmer and student of Apple's "one to one" training service program, spoke for five minutes about the gap separating young and old, several times alluding to adults as the kids, and kids as adults in the world of tech.
"My first app was a unique fortune teller called Earth Fortune, that would display different colors of Earth depending on what your fortune was," Thomas said during his TED talk. "My favorite, most successful app is Bustin Jieber--a Justin Bieber whac-a-mole." (It costs a buck.)
In late 2010, he released the app using the premise of the Whac-A-Mole game. Spin-offs include Bustin Howie, and Bustin Piers (lampooning Howie Mandel and Piers Morgan). "I created it because a lot of people at school disliked Justin Bieber." He isn't alone in that sentiment, clearly.
So far he's made about $1,000 from the app, but the experience has made him a local celebrity. "A lot of kids these days like to play games, but now they want to make them. And it's difficult, because not many kids know where to go to find out how to make a program...Any student at my school can come and learn how to design an app. This is so I can share my experience with others."
With the help of his two younger brothers, Thomas lectures in front of a group of about 20 students at lunchtime. With the district part of the iPad pilot program, integrating iPads into the classroom and hour-long lunch lessons on the ins and outs of app creation, could the South Bay area of Los Angeles be the next blue chip incubator for tech talent? At least for the younger set.
"A big challenge is how should the iPads be used and what apps should we put on the iPads," he questioned at the end of his TED talk. "We're getting feedback from the teachers at the school to see what apps they like. When we design the app and we sell it, it will be free to local districts. And other districts that we sell to, all the money from that will be funneled to local ed foundations."
While the young technophile is working with a third-party company to make new apps, he said his next goal is to get into Android programming, continue his app club "and find other ways for students to share knowledge with others."
A very impressive 12-year old to be sure. And certainly the shape of things to come.