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Code Kid

Got an app for that? Devin Snipes probably does.

Devin Snipes plans to study computer programming in college.

Devin Snipes plans to study computer programming in college.

Sixteen-year-old Devin Snipes looks like a typical teen as he shops in Germantown’s Apple computer store. But the Farley High junior is much more than an Apple devotee. He’s an iPhone app developer.

Devin’s journey began with learning to write Objective-C computer code. Once he mastered the code, he created an app that eventually reached Apple’s top 100 apps list and led to a meeting with the Memphis City Schools Board to consult on integrating technology with twenty-first-century curriculum.

“Ideas pop into my mind,” he says, which explains why Devin always carries an iPad. When inspiration strikes, he wants to be ready.

Rhonda Robinson says her son has always been brainy and persistent. As a preschooler, he  would take apart remote controls, toy cars, and V-tech computers. But what separated him from other 4-year-olds was that he could put them back together again.

That inquisitiveness led to Devin teaching himself computer code at 13. From there, the teen developed his debut app, Am I Ugly, in less than two months. The free entertainment app, which Apple made available last December, provides random responses to photos stored on iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch products. Users know not to take the app personally, since even a model’s photo can receive negative responses. Nonetheless, its popularity boosted Am I Ugly onto the top 100 most popular apps list, with more than 100,000 downloads.

The development process also wasn’t hitch-free. “It was hard to get the photo integrated into the app,” says Devin. “It was rejected four days after I submitted it because when you tapped on the button, it crashed.”

Undeterred, he revised it, and Apple accepted the improved version.

When he set out to learn Objective-C, he didn’t have a specific goal. “I downloaded a game for my iPod touch, and thought maybe I could make a game.” Then 13, he bought two books on the subject. Now, he’s so agile with coding, he doesn’t have to refer to books.

“Devin stayed up long hours, and he was frustrated and wanting to give up at times,” says Rhonda. As a mom, she was concerned about his stress and loss of sleep, and urged him to pull back. During that time, his grandmother, Betty Robinson, was a big inspiration and offered him encouragement.

This year, he created iPad and iPhone versions of uChat, which sends instant messages through Bluetooth. The app sells for 99 cents and is suited for use in areas that lack cell phone coverage. An updated version will make phone calls to Bluetooth.

He also developed an MCS app which has a database of city school addresses, as well as phone and fax numbers. Devin is updating the app with maps so that users can find a school with GPS through the phone. He also consulted with school board members to provide ideas for using existing technology to make learning more fun. Math games are an example, he said.

Now, Devin stays busy updating his three apps, taking honors courses, and playing snare drum in the school band. He wants to develop more apps and utility for computers.

Devin plans to study computer science in college and hopes to work for Google, Apple, or perhaps himself. His vision is clear. “I think I can bring technology where the user can interact with it better,” he says. “I’d like to see a better variety of touch-screen devices, like touch -screen television. I’d also like to find a better way to synchronize data.”

His 4-year-old brother seems to be following in his footsteps.

“Nicholas knows how to work almost every electronic device I own,” he says with a laugh. “He knows how to work camcorders and digital cameras sometimes better than me.”

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