12-Year-Old App Developer Honored for “Disruptive Innovation”
6.13.12 | Thomas Suarez, a 12-year-old from Los Angeles, was honored at the Tribeca Film Festival Disruptive Innovation Awards earlier this month for his app-creating company CarrotCorp, which now sells four mobile applications for Apple’s iOS platform.
Suarez’s apps include “Earth Fortune,” which predicts the kind of day the user will have using randomly color-coded pictures of Earth, and “Bustin Jieber,” which allows users to play the classic game of “Whack-a-Mole” except with Justin Bieber’s – ahem – head.
In an interview with ABC reporters Abby Ellin and Joanna Stern, Suarez said he began creating his first app when he was 9, after downloading an iOS simulation toolkit designed to help users learn app-developing skills. Suarez has since saved up enough money from his apps—two of which are free and the other two each cost 99 cents— to purchase his own iPod Touch and iPhone.
For soccer you can go to a soccer team, for violin, you could get lessons for a violin, but what if you want to make an app?
– Thomas Suarez
In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Suarez began an app-building club at his school, and last year he gave a TEDx talk about his accomplishments.
“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,” Suarez said at TEDxManhattanBeach. “For soccer you can go to a soccer team, for violin, you could get lessons for a violin, but what if you want to make an app?”
This question caught the attention of Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival:
“It touched a chord in virtually anybody who saw it,” said Hatkoff, who began mentoring Suarez through email and Skype. “He talks about the idea that kids don’t necessarily want to play games, they want to learn how to make games.
The whole notion that kids will take ownership if you give them something interesting that they want to do. To me, that was a revelation.”
Hatkoff bought Suarez a MakerBot 3-D printer, which is now one of Suarez’s favorite tools. He also presented the pre-teen with the Disruptive Innovation Award. Named for Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation Theory, the award honors “how simpler, cheaper technologies, products, and services can decimate industry leaders.” Past honorees include Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales.
Suarez explained his gradual involvement with app-building technologies, and said that the suite of Apple tools designed for creating and programming iPhone apps specifically “opened up a whole new world of possibilities” for him after he had taught himself the programming languages Python, Java, and C.
One of the most innovative ideas Suarez put forth during his TEDx talk upends the traditional student-teacher hierarchy. Students, as he put it, “usually know a little bit more” than teachers about new technologies like app building, and afterschool clubs, such as the one Suarez created, can be a great resource for teachers, too.
Hatkoff even said as much himself when presenting Suarez with his award: “I started off thinking Thomas would become my protégé. I have now learned I am his protégé.”
Watch Suarez’s fabulous TEDx talk below:
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