There's never been a better time to be a 14-year-old developer

By Michael Carney , written on November 9, 2012

From The News Desk

These young whippersnapper developers have it made. With each passing day, it seems the barriers to creating and distributing a successful mobile app drop a little further. The latest remarkable story is that of 14-year-old Jonah Rubin, who learned Objective-C programming in a few months this summer and published his first iOS game to rave reviews. Rubin’s impressive story spent most of last weekend atop the Hacker News message board garnering 390 points to date and spiking downloads of his game Cheese Miners by 9,000 percent.

Rubin is an accomplished young developer, with several Android games to his credit. He was recently hired to develop a new website for the American Journal of Psychiatry (in part because it’s edited by his uncle). That said, he didn’t summit the Objective C mountain on his own. Eager to learn iOS and OSX programming, the high school student took a summer internship with Y-Combinator alumni game publisher MakeGamesWithUs.

MakeGamesWithUs is not like most publishers, as it focuses entirely on empowering high school and college students to build games. The startup offers a variety of custom frameworks and analytics tools, as well tutorials and forums to coders who already know some objective programming such as Java (the language taught in AP Computer Science).

The participants retain ownership of their code after the program, but get access to services like professional artists, graphics designers, and musicians, as well as assistance navigating the iOS App Store submission process. In exchange, MakeGamesWithUs collects 100 percent of game profits until the cost of hiring artists is repaid, after which the developers keep 70 percent (of the 70 percent passed through by Apple) and the publishing platform keeps 30 percent.

The Hacker News thread around Cheese Miners turned into an entertaining war of young entrepreneur one-upsmanship, with various commentors both congratulating Rubin on his achievements and sharing their own impressive feats. By 14, one of the more impressive commentors had published an instructional book called “Game Programming for Teens,” which several others in the thread had read, including Rubin.

Another named “tripzilch” was more sarcastic about how much things have changed for developers, writing, “When I was a young programmer, we had to write code in the snow with our pee, and a compiler was just a word for the pilot of the hovering derigible that read the instructions and passed them to the ALU, which was another fellow with an abacus.” Commentor “mjconhew” added, “When I was 14, I had to push the electrons around by hand.”

Rubin’s storry is a fascinating one, but he’s certainly not alone. Summly founder Nick D’Alonsio was allegedly the youngest VC-backed founder in history when he raised $250,000 at 16 years old to scale his hit application.

The reality is that the developer and startup ecosystem has never been more welcoming to new and eager talent, regardless of age, color, or creed. Platforms like MakeGamesWithUs and GameSalad, and communities like Hacker News, play a significant role in breaking down barriers and empowering wouldbe entrepreneurs. What used to require teams of people and years of work – not to mention piles of cash – now requires a summer vacation and a dash of motivation. It’s likely we’ll see more, not less, Rubins going forward, and the startup ecosystem will be better for it.

[Image courtesy Sully213]