Michael Royzen, a 17-year-old high school student living in Seattle, has been coding since he was 12 and loves it so much, he's certain that he's going to do it for a living one day.
He's off to a good start. He was part of a team of kids that won the 2015 TechGLOBAL Civic Hackathon for an app called VoicePedia, which reads Wikipedia entries aloud for the visually impaired. It's available on Apple's App Store.
The second app of his to be accepted into the App Store was a derivative called RecipeReadr, which reads your recipes aloud. It cost $1.99 and has had a couple thousand downloads, so far, Royzen tells us.
That was enough of a commercial success to land him a scholarship to Apple's 2016 Worldwide Developer's Conference teen program, where he briefly met Apple CEO Tim Cook and Apple's famed senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi in what he describes as a "life changing" event.
A few years ago, Apple didn't allow teen programmers into its conferences at all. As we previously reported, one of the most famous Apple teen coders was John Meyer who invented the flashlight app Just Light for the iPhone 4 (before Apple integrated a flashlight feature into iOS). He followed that up with a hugely successful app called Perfect Shot.
When Mayer was 16, he had to sneak into WWDC, getting his father to get a pass for him. (Meyer is now in his early 20's and running his own citizen journalism startup, Fresco News.)
Today, however, Apple welcomes young programmers with open arms via its WWDC scholarship program. Apple gives about 400 kids a free pass to the conference (and will even help pay for travel for a handful of them). They attend special programming where they can meet other kid programmers and get feedback on their work from Apple employees.
Apple just opened up applications for its 2017 scholarship program.
Tim Cook always makes an appearance with the teen scholarship winners at WWDC. When Royzen met him, he was both star struck and inspired, he says. "I felt so much appreciation. This is the man who makes my work possible. I asked him to sign my iPhone. I look at the signature to push myself harder as a developer and even as a human."
But it was an interaction with Federighi that really influenced him. The head of software spent a few minutes talking to Royzen about his work and some of Apple's new dev tools.
The result is Royzen's latest app called Ryde, which will helps you manage your daily commute so you always arrive on time. Royzen built it because he noticed that some days it took him longer to get to school than other days, he said.
While iOS and Google Now will both tell you when to leave for an appointment in your calendar, that doesn't work for stuff you don't put into your calendar like your daily commute or your trips to the gym, your kid's daycare center, etc.
This app checks traffic, tells you when to leave and also the fastest route to get there each time.
"It uses some of the new Maps APIs that were released and the new design language that was announced," Royzen says. "I built it using the inspiration I got from Craig Federighi and Tim Cook."
Ryde hasn't gone crazy with downloads yet, but it's gotten some nice reviews.
More importantly, Royzen's experience represents how far Apple has come in its encouragement of kid coders.
The interaction with Federighi was a particular highlight, because the exec talked one-on-one with them.
"Having that short conversation, I could tell how passionate he was about his work and how dedicated he was to building high quality products," Royzen said.
He was also left with the sense that these two powerful men were not just smart, they were also "humble," he said and left this young programmer with "a burning desire to do more."
Given all the recent news of bad behavior among some techies, which makes all of Silicon Valley sound like a frat house, Royzen's simple ambition to work hard and be humble is a breath of fresh air.
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