Most fifteen year-olds spent their first week of summer at the beach, or binge-watching Netflix in recovery from exams. Ishaan Prasad ’18 is not an ordinary fifteen year old. In June, Ishaan spent a week in San Francisco as a personal guest of Apple at their annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the tech giant’s showcase for their new products and a destination for the world’s top software developers. Ishaan was one of 350 scholars selected to attend WWDC, chosen through a strict application process. The opportunity to go to this coveted conference is new for high schoolers; the scholar program has been around since the Eighties, but was traditionally only available to graduate school students. Four years ago, a then-sixteen year-old developer applied and was accepted under his dad’s name, prompting Apple to rethink their age policy. Now, the scholarship is available to anyone thirteen years and up. About 100 of the 350 students were high schoolers, estimates Ishaan; the rest were in college and graduate school. His week and story was additionally chronicled in Business Insider in June.
“There’s an app for that” has never been more accurate than today. You can measure your heart rate, stream a movie, and order
dinner, all with the touch of your phone. App developing and computer language have both emerged as vital 21st century skills, with teenagers and young adults spearheading technological advances for everyday life in this new age of apps. Ishaan’s love for computers started when he was ten, learning Scratch and making games. At 12, he taught himself Objective-C from Youtube videos over March break, releasing his debut app Pet Run a few weeks later. Now, his focus in apps is on productivity and education, and has over 60 thousand downloads. Instead of consisting of the usual “Tell us about yourself…” questions, Apple’s atypical application required students to build an interactive resumé app to showcase their developing skills and creativity. The innovative application was announced in Mid-May, and applicants are given a week to create the app; Ishaan recalls working on the app in addition to studying for finals, and receiving an acceptance letter during the exams. Part of Apple’s genius here is it forces applicants to learn and master Swift, Apple’s language, therefore popularizing it.
WWDC ran from Monday, June 8 to the following Friday at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. On Sunday, the scholars were invited to an orientation at the Four Seasons that mimicked the Keynote address, the conference’s most anticipated event that would come the next day. Ishaan lined up at 1:30am that morning outside the convention center in hopes of securing a good spot for the Keynote. “I missed the email that said the scholars had VIP access,” laughs Ishaan. His dedication paid off; he was first in line, and there were pictures on Apple’s website to prove it.
The Keynote was traditionally held by Steve Jobs, and now features CEO Tim Cook and other Apple executives announcing new products. This year, the company premiered Apple Music, their response to Spotify and the growing demand for subscription-based music streaming. The Weekend debuted his hit single “Can’t Feel My Face” after Cook’s lecture. The itself was awe-inspiring, recalls Ishaan. “The Keynote was held in the biggest room I’ve ever been in”, a testimate to the tech giant’s grandeur. The scholars sat in a VIP section at the very front of the room, only feet away from heads of the world’s most influential tech company. After the address, Ishaan and his fellow scholars were pulled on stage for photos in front of the crowd. During the conference, Ishaan observed several strategies of Apple’s, especially on their PR front. For example, any time there was a photo op, workers would place minorities and girls (Apple was scorned for not attracting enough women at the conference) front and center.
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent milling around the conference center, mingling with fellow software developers, media, and Apple executives. Ishaan estimates that in addition to the 350 scholars, there were around five thousand developers and another thousand Apple engineers.
Add the media and Apple workers to get approximately seven thousand conference attendees – quite the hectic scene. The scholars were given VIP passes that gave them all-access to the conference; Ishaan’s is autographed by Tim Cook. “There was no separation or superiority with the top people at Apple, everyone roamed around the conference floor, happy to talk with anyone.” There were lectures and workshops set up for different interactive labs and sessions for scholars to attend, and when they were tired or needed a break, they could head to the scholar lounge. Ishaan met and bonded with many other student developers during the week at WWDC. “They were doing so much more than I could imagine,” he remarked. One standout peer was Ari Weinstein, who is the mastermind behind Workflow, a productivity app that sat at #1 in the App Store for weeks, created when Ari was still a teenager. He left MIT at 19 to continue to work on his projects, sponsored by the Thiel Fellowship. The Fellowship, started by early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, gives grants to young entrepreneurs for use for their startup, given they drop out of school to do so. Ishaan notes one big difference in the education mentality of East versus West Coast students. “The idea of schooling is very different,” he remarks. “In general, kids over here will go through college then start their careers. Out in California, they talk about dropping out or not going at all to work on their companies.”
Ishaan was given the opportunity on Thursday to tour the Google and Twitter headquarters, both located close to each other and to San Francisco. The conference concluded with a concert featuring Walk The Moon to cap off an unforgettable week.
Along with his brother, Arnav, he attended Dartmouth’s Hack-a-thon the first weekend of October, where participants spend two days working on a certain project that is reviewed by corporate judges. In our interview, he stressed the importance of coding and developing in today’s world, and how kids our age are playing a major role in technology and innovation. Asked about programming scene at Belmont Hill, Ishaan notes potential in the new clubs starting up this year. “There are a ton of people in our school and the ISL interested in programming,” he says. “There’s been a boom of interest. It’s very exciting.”
Congrats to Ishaan for this remarkable accomplishment. The future certainly is bright for him.