The rise of the teenage app-developer

For the first time ever, Apple opened the doors of its Worldwide Developer Conference to programmers as young as 13

Paul Dunahoo is a 13-year-old business owner and app developer whose programs have already earned him about $8,000.
(Image credit: Courtesy Robert Falcetti)

Paul Dunahoo runs a small company called Bread and Butter Software LLC, and was recently invited to participate in Apple's prestigious Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco to meet other engineers and submit his work for critique. Dunahoo's string of productivity applications, which includes a popular grocery-list maker, have already been downloaded millions of times in Apple's App Store. And yet, when the week-long event's "Beer Bash" began on Thursday, Dunahoo was nowhere to be seen: The 13-year-old CEO was barred, along with 149 other underage developers, from attending the party, for this year represents the first time in WWDC history that Apple has opened the conference's doors to a rising tide of teenage wunderkinds who develop iPhone apps when they aren't doing history homework. Here, a brief guide to the emerging trend:

Why did Apple let them in?

In past years, "we would get emails after the developer conference from students, 16, 15, 14 years old, saying I already have X number of apps in the app store. I'm a developer. Can I take part in this too?" Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller tells The Wall Street Journal. The demand points to a growing demographic of young people who spend their spare time solving problems by learning how to code for operating systems like Apple's iOS. Previously, developers 18 years and older were the only teenagers allowed to participate in WWDC. But now that software companies are vying for younger audiences, Apple is openly inviting fresh minds to actively take part in the conference.

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How were the teens able to attend?

Apple handed out scholarships to help cover the event's $1,599 entrance fee. Parents were invited along to chaperone, as well as sign the conference's customary nondisclosure agreements for teens not yet of legal age. Once in, the wiz kids were invited to network and show their work in a student-friendly lounge, complete with beanbag chairs and Skittles.

What kind of software are these smarties developing?

Nick D'Aloisio — a 16-year-old from South London described as a "boy genius" who could very well be the next Sergey Brin or Larry Page — launched the popular email and website summarizing application Summly, which recently attracted the attention of big-name investors behind Facebook and Spotify. Another young developer, Thomas Suarez of Manhattan Beach, Calif., created an iOS game called Bustin Jieber, a Whack-a-Mole–style game that has players bopping the head of the 18-year-old entertainer. The sixth grader recently gave a talk about his creation at TEDxManhattanBeach.

Why are coders getting younger?

Teens represent "a small subsection of thousands of developers who are learning to build apps," says Jessica E. Vascellaro at The Wall Street Journal. Many are self-taught, but now, kids as young as seven are being enrolled by eager parents in summer programming classes, such as ID Tech Camps in California (where registration is up 70 percent for the year). "I think kids see how much money can be made from these apps," says Karen Thurn Safran, vice president of marketing and business development for the programs. Apparently, so do their parents.

How much are they earning?

Dunahoo says his apps have earned him somewhere in the ballpark of $8,000 (which he intends to save to someday buy a house). D'Aloisio's Summly, on the other hand, has attracted $250,000 in initial funding and has been downloaded 30,000 times since December. Some young programmers, however, insist they aren't doing it for the money: Midas Kwant, a 15-year-old developer from the Netherlands, simply hopes that his early start will one day help him land a job in the industry. "Ultimately," says Vascellaro, "he wants to work at Apple."

Sources: The Age, BBC News, Tecca, Wall Street Journal

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