The Young App-rentices: Five App Developers Ages 16 and Under [UPDATE]

Meet four minor App developers with major ideas. All age 16 or younger, they're part of a generation raised with multi-touch and social media, and they're cranking out profitable ideas for new devices and platforms as fast as manufacturers let them.

teen app devs

Since FastCompany.com last spoke with 16-year-old T.J. Pluhacek, who'd developed an app for the iPad, his app sales, have "gone up 300%," he says. His local Portland-area news stations did news reports on him and his NoteLook, too. What also became apparent along the way is that T.J.'s got a posse, an elite band of homework-acing mathletically inclined young developers whose focus and determination makes them shining examples of Generation i.

With the next-gen iPhone all over the Web today, we thought we'd get personal with these under-18, next-gen iPhone app developers and wannabe tech moguls. We suspect there are more of them cropping up each day in their parents basements and school computer labs everywhere. We talked four more standouts. One of them, Joe, hasn't personally developed an app, but he's one of the forces behind another project that three of them are working on. Read on, and be amazed, and maybe feel a bit lazy by comparison.

Jonah Grant

Jonah Grant: The Ideas Man

Age: 14

Location: Chicago, IL (USA)

When did you get started?
I first got started with computers when I was about five years old. I loved searching around my PC and seeing what I could find (demo software, games, etc.), and I got into developing software about a year and a half ago when the iPhone 3G came out, which allowed for third-party applications.

What was your first computer?
My first computer was a Windows 98 Dell desktop PC. I can still remember the gigantic monitor sitting on the desk in my kitchen that would always have Limewire open (back then Limewire looked so hacker with the black background and lime green/red text).

And your first programming platform?
When I started learning Obj-C, it was for the iPhone/iPod Touch. But before I began coding for the mobile OS, I started out on Mac building little things to get me ready for the iPhone SDK.

Apps currently in the store:

What apps are you working on?
I'm currently working (well, releasing) an iPhone app called Walkie-Talkie 3000. I'm working on this app with a friend, Matthew Downham, and it is essentially a theme-able Bluetooth walkie-talkie for your iPhone or iPod Touch (works for iPad, too, but not made for iPad).

Why did you get into this?
I wanted to try something new and get my name out there. The iPhone platform was blowing up (and still is), and I felt that it would be a fun and good experience to get myself into.

Where do you see it going?
I see iPhone apps sticking along for a long time, but turning into more toy-apps rather than actual useful, productivity applications because the iPad has a much bigger potential for applications that are meant for getting various things done, whether it be email, reading your RSS feeds, tweets, the paper, or catching up on the latest episode of FlashForward (or any TV show) via the ABC iPad app (one of my favorites) the iPad is the best experience for those things, along with many others that really show what its potential is over the iPhone and iPod Touch.

How many units have you sold?
I have sold (free and paid) around 66,000 units.

What do you want to be/do when you're older?
I want to be in either the film business or work/own(start) a Silicon Valley startup when I am older.

Who do you want to play you in the movie of your life, and why?
Ooooh that's a hard one! I'd either want Kiefer Sutherland because he's, well, awesome, or Gerard Butler, because he was so badass in Law Abiding Citizen (one of my favorite movies).

If your app were a song by a "popular beat combo," what would it be and why?
Not gonna lie, but I have no idea what a "popular beat combo" is.

<a href=Stephen Huber" width="620" height="613" />

Stephen Huber: The Closer

Age: 14

Location: Detroit, Michigan

When did you get started?
I started getting into the app development when I was around 13 years old. At the time, I had a YouTube channel and reviewed iPhone applications and other technology products. I was asked by Elias Pietilä from Helsinki, Finland, to review his past application, Pajatzo. Elias and I formed a great working relationship, and he asked for my help with his upcoming app, Wooden Labyrinth 3D. I helped design several of the custom levels built into the paid version. Once the app was approved by Apple and live on the App Store, I did some marketing work including, as we like to call, "Forum-blasting," setting up media coverage, and giveaways.

What was your first computer?
My first personal computer was a Macbook Pro. I've been a huge "Apple nerd" ever since I got my first-generation iPod Nano.

And your first programming platform?
I started coding in Objective-C shortly after I got my first Mac computer.

Apps currently in the store:
Currently, I have one app live on the App Store: Wooden Labyrinth 3D. The developers of this app were Elias Pietilä, Tapani Pihlajamäki, and me. We also had some great musicians make a Spanish guitar soundtrack: Olli Santala & Jan Oksanen. Wooden Labyrinth 3D is currently priced at $2.99, with a free version available. It is available for iPhone and iPod touch, although we are working on an iPad version. One of our major features of the game is literally infinite levels, due to an algorithm that makes levels right on your i-Device. It was our marketing choice to maintain infinite levels on the free version but to place ads and limit features.

What apps are you working on?
I am currently working with Qvik on a simple, free, ad-supported drawing application called "Qvik Sketch." It should be available in a week or two. Basically, you can create some really nice drawings in a very short amount of time. I am probably the worst drawer on paper, but I can make some really neat drawings in less than 30 seconds. [24 hours after this feature was published, Stephen emailed me to tell me that Apple had approved Qvik Sketch and it was available on iTunes.]

Why did you get into this?
I actually got into the app-developing business to learn something new and challenge myself. It's a great opportunity for anyone to make a name for themselves.

Where do you see it going?
Wherever it takes me. I love working with the people in the business and get a great sense of satisfaction from a successful product.

How many units have you sold?
Free and Full version combined, Wooden Labyrinth 3D has shipped over 7.5 million copies. The Free version has made it to the No. 1 spot in Free Games, and it won the Student Apple Design Award in 2009. We are very pleased with how well the app has done.

What do you want to be/do when you're older?
After I graduate from University of Detroit Jesuit High School, I'd like to go to Stanford University or Loyola University Chicago to study communications and marketing. Becoming a marketing director of a technology company would be my dream job!

Who do you want to play you in the movie of your life, and why?
Taylor Lautner. Who wouldn't want to be the guy girls are obsessed with?

If your app were a pop song by a "popular beat combo," what would it be and why?
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones. The title fits the objective of the game well.

<a href=Joe Constan" width="620" height="465" />

Joe Constan: The Smartie Pants

Age: 15

Location: Dearborn, Michigan

When did you get started?
In terms of programming in general, I started quite young actually, probably around 12 or so, but in respect to the iPhone platform, just a few months.

What was your first computer?
Just a crummy old Dell, back when grunge was still cool and every mailbox in America contained roughly 13 AOL free trial discs at any given point in time. Things have gotten significantly better since then, in both respects.

And your first programming platform?
Coincidentally, when I started out it was also to program for iPods, but this was long before the iPhone, when you had to hack your iPod and install Linux on it if you wanted to play games. Despite what one might think though, there are really very few similarities between that and developing for the iPhone. Personally, I still prefer the former because of it's simplicity, but it is nice having access to the massive amount of documentation Apple makes available to their developers.

Apps currently in the store:
Not applicable

What apps are you working on?
Well I can't tell you of course, then you would steal my idea. I mean, if I were you, I would definitely steal it, because it's pretty awesome. Andrew might just tell you anyway though. If he were an animal, he would definitely be a narwhal, because narwhals are notoriously bad at keeping secrets.

Why did you get into this?
I'm definitely an artsy kind of guy, and I love the creative aspect to it, the idea of creating a working, useful application out of nothing but some graphics and lines of code. Many, many lines of code.

Where do you see it going?
Into the App Store and subsequently onto people's iPhones and iPads, at which point they will be bombarded with copious amounts of subliminal advertising. That's where the big money's at.

How many units have you sold?
Not applicable.

What do you want to be/do when you're older?
Whatever Steve Jobs is now, that. Or a rock star.

Who do you want to play you in the movie of your life, and why?
I'd have to say Johnny Depp, purely due to the uncanny physical likeness.

If your app were a song by a "popular beat combo," what would it be and why?
Probably "Unfinished Song" by Styx, because it's not finished yet. But combined with "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, because it' still completely awesome.

Andrew Rauh

Andrew Rauh: The Zuck-let

Age: 16

Location: Dearborn, MI. 

When did you get started?
Although I have had a lot of ideas for awhile, I really did not start actually programming until around the middle of my sophomore year.

What was your first computer?
The first computer I would play around on was an Apple Macintosh IIci desktop running OS 7 or 8. Shortly after, I used a Gateway running Windows ME, then another desktop with XP. Now, I use a 13-inch Macbook Aluminum with Snow Leopard with 22-inch ext. monitor.

And your first programming platform?
Well, I first played around with Python on a family laptop running Ubuntu Linux before I got my Mac last April. But the majority of my work has been done on my Mac with Leopard/Snow Leopard.

Apps currently in the store:
I have no apps in the app store ... yet.

What apps are you working on?
I am currently working on two: an app with Joe Constan that will be coming out in mid-June for the iPad, a Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr client that provides a simple, quick way to update your status, share pictures, short videos, and location. We have not decided on the official name yet. There will be a free ad-supported version and a $.99 version of the app. Although this has been done before, we believe we are doing it in a simpler, sleeker manner. The second one, "Solutions," is an AP Chem/College Chemistry utility app. It will contain over 15 different equations commonly used in chemistry to help quickly solve complicated problems. I hope to also eventually add graphing abilities to the app, and the capability to read data from various instruments that would connect via the iPod pin port and easily share answers with fellow classmates via Twitter, Facebook, or Email. The app will cost $4.99. I am aiming to release the iPhone version in August and the iPad version by September.

Why did you get into this?
I got into developing simply because I love innovation and the ability to make my ideas a reality. I enjoy projects and working with others to make really awesome things happen. Also, I was tremendously motivated after attending Intel ISEF 2009 in Reno, Nevada. At the international science fair, I won third grand prize in chemistry, and met countless amazing people from around the world. The event made me even more motivated to turn my ideas into real, working apps.

Where do you see it going?
I just want to give it my best shot to develop these ideas in the best way I possibly can. My goal is to find established companies willing to invest in my ideas and assist me in anyway possible. So far, the online tech community has been amazingly supportive, and the connections I have built via sites like Twitter are countless. My dream is to go to the University of Michigan, MIT, or Stanford, and I really hope my hard work now will help me reach my goal. (Also, making some money to pay off the incredibly expensive tuition at those schools would be much appreciated ... or receiving scholarship opportunities.)

How many units have you sold?
None yet, but I hope to change this very soon. So far all I have gotten is a lot of positive feedback.

What do you want to be/do when you're older?
I hope to get a Masters in computer science from Stanford, but also take a few business and economic classes. I want to either establish my own startup company or work for an amazing company like Apple, Google, or Twitter. Also, although I do enjoy the programming aspect of computer science, I really love the visionary/creative parts of this field. I am greatly inspired by guys like Kevin Rose (CEO of Digg.com), R.J. Pittman (former Google Product Manager now employed at Apple), and Quentin Stafford-Fraser (he wrote the software for the first Web cam, The Trojan Room Coffee Pot, as well as the first VNC server and client software for Windows).

Who do you want to play you in the movie of your life, and why?
Well, between doing all this computer stuff and taking a few college level classes, I really don't have much time to follow movies, much less the actors in them. Although I can safely say, it would never be Justin Beiber.

If your app were a song by a "popular beat combo," what would it be and why?
Hmm ... well the chemistry app would be kind of a boring song haha, so I am going to say if my life was a song by a popular band, it would most likely be a song by JET or the Fratellis. Almost all of their songs are fast, upbeat, with a positive message. Also, they are great bands to blast at 3 a.m. when I'm still up studying.

As for that Zuckerberg reference, Andrew also talked to us about a project he is working on alongside Joe Constan, Stephen Huber, and a fourth guy, Gian Carlo Moore. It's an educational social networking site, with apps for Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android. "The concept," he wrote in an email to FastCompany.com, "is to take the powerful capabilities of sites like Twitter and Facebook, and use them for strictly educational purposes, allowing an entire generation of students to work, learn, and grow together."

Seems a bunch of them already are.

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5 Comments

  • Ben kaiser

    I think these guys are really impressive... I would enjoy co-developing with them lol... I'm 14 so around mos. Of their ages and I have two apps on the app store (skill builder numeracy and skill builder spelling) they are both free but am working on some vey commercial paid ideas atm.. Downloads to date are around 14000 units... Started programming about a year ago when I realized how cool it would be to write an app for my iPod touch... Right now I am studying university online through oua because wasn't getting anywhere with school... Hope to run my own software company when I am older... My next big dream is to be on an apple ad... Oh and movie thing, definitely Keanu reeves, just because of the matrix...

  • Richard Minerich

    Great to see teenagers with a strong interest in programming. Never let them tell you you're too young!

  • Lisa Valentine

    For those whose companies/workplaces are blocking or threatening to block employee access to social media apps, I'd like to share a helpful resource. It's a whitepaper called , “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    http://bit.ly/9f8WOT

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

    Pass it along to the IT Dept.