Ishaan Prasad is a remarkable 15-year-old high school kid from Winchester, Mass. that taught himself to code at age 12.
He wrote a few successful iPhone apps, and is this week, he’s Apple’s guest at its huge World Wide Developer Conference, in San Francisco.
Prasad is was one of 350 students worldwide to qualify for a paid scholarship to the conference, in which Apple has not only waived admission to the sessions, but has set up a special set of programs for its teen developers, complete with a Tim Cook meet-and-greet and a special section of the App Store launched last week called “20 under 20” which spotlights apps built by teens.
The teen scholarship program represents a new way that Apple is trying to get life-long fans and developers.
The thing is, you have to be 18 to have an Apple developer account to submit apps to the App store, or to attend WWDC and so for many years, Apple not only overlooked these teens, it inadvertently discouraged them.
That didn’t stop them.
Just four years ago, for instance, one of Apple’s most successful young developers, John Meyer (creator of an very popular iPhone 4 flashlight app), had to get his dad to help him sneak in to the conference when he was 16. His dad registered and gave him the badge. Shortly after, Apple created this teen program and Meyer was invited to come be part of it, and meet Tim Cook himself.
Now Apple is ramping up the program in big and little ways.
Prasad was so excited to be accepted into the program he reached out to Business Insider to tell us about it. What we learned:
- Most, but not all, of the 350 scholarships went to teens. Others went to adult students, as old as 30.
- In order to win a scholarship, applicants have to create an app. (We’ve got deets on Prasad’s winning app below).
- Apple is doing something brilliant here: it’s making these young developers use Apple’s new programing language, Swift, for their applications. Forcing the youngest generation of developers to learn the language will help Swift become popular.
First app, age 12
As for Prasad, he started coding when he was 12 years old, he says.
“My passion for developing began in 2012, when my Mum was rushed to the hospital due to a spontaneous pneumothorax. During this scary time, I found an outlet for my stress by creating my first app for iOS and Android, a children’s game called PetRun,” he told us.
“I still remember the joy I felt when PetRun received more than 1,000 downloads on the first day! Today, I have more than 5 apps that have been downloaded more than 60,000 times in 75 countries,” he said.
Back, then, he said, Apple wasn’t “doing much for kid developers,” but today, he says, he feels very encouraged by the company, particularly the new 20 under 20 part of the App Store.
“What Apple’s done, which is really good, they have started to promote the kids more on the App store,” he says.
He feels that Apple is not just showing off apps that teens made, but is showing off apps that help teach people to code.
“They are promoting this idea that programming should be something everything knows, and trying to make programming more accessible to everybody,” he says.
It’s working for him.
While he started out with games, he’s now writing educational apps, including a Hindi language learning app for the iPad (Match-It-Up) that has been used in classrooms in Shishu Bharati (a Sunday school for Indian Language and Culture).
Teen coders getting to know each other
The scholarship program at WWDC includes a bunch of activities where the winners can hang and get to know each other, including an orientation that took place Sunday night attended by none other than Tim Cook.
The teens will also attend the rest of the show and have a special VIP pavilion and other events, he says.
Apple has also set up a Twitter group and a Facebook group for the winners so they can get to know each other.
“I was amazed to see people of all ages from around the world. From Norway to Japan, with ages ranging from 13 to 30, there truly was a wide diversity of scholars who all share the same love of developing for iOS and Android,” he tells us.
It’s not just kindness on Apple’s part. It’s also good business to encourage people who love to code to bring their ideas to Apple’s products.
“I was talking to one of the winners, he’s like 20-year-old now. He decided to drop out of MIT and move to San Francisco and now one of his apps was like the No. 1 paid app in the App Store for 4 days and is still trending. So it’s cool to see these kids who left their normal lives pursue their career in app development,” he tells us.
As scholarship winners, this crop of teens also has a better-than-average shot of landing one of Apple’s coveted internships and from there perhaps a job offer at Apple or at many other tech companies.
Here’s the app that Prasad created which won him this scholarship.