You can stop worrying about the future of apps.
We're never going to run out of them, thanks largely to a young generation of app developers who are cranking out useful, trivial, ingenious and puzzling programs the way previous generations once created dance moves, mix tapes and graffiti masterpieces.
Every generation searches for a way to make its mark; a way to show that its members know something that those who came before don't. For the class of 2013 there is more than one form of expression, but there is also no question that one of the most powerful is app development.
"You could say the movie 'The Social Network' was for them what "Easy Rider" was for an earlier generation," says Milpitas High School teacher John Ribovich, who's run across app developers in his English classes. "It was just like a way to live."
So, we should be thankful that today's teenagers aspire to write code rather than ride choppers into a haze of New Orleans drugs and marijuana. But seriously, we should be thankful for much more than that. The app-ecosystem has provided high school kids with a different way to look at the world. It's a world of possibilities. A world where if you're smart enough and determined enough, you can do something -- today. A world where you don't have to settle for loading apps on your iPhone. You can build an app that thousands of others will load on their iPhones.
"One of the best things about programming is that you have the opportunity to help people out," says Luke Li, a Carlmont High School senior.
Li, 18, worked with Milpitas High student Jason Pugatch on the HypedMusic app, which lets people stream and share music on mobile devices. The two met on Facebook (naturally) after they joined a debate about Steve Jobs started by a mutual friend. In the subsequent back-and-forth, Pugatch complained about problems with his Spotify account.
"And Luke showed me his little music database at the time," Pugatch, 18, says. "I kind of saw the potential for what we could do with a music database on the Internet. I saw this vision of streaming music to iPhones for free."
The Android app was a hit in Japan. Who knew? "They just started blogging about it and tweeting about it," Pugatch says. And the iOS version appealed to Europe. "Apparently some French blogger blogged about it and the other bloggers blogged and it just went viral," he says.
The fame is especially gratifying, because Li and Pugatch aren't in it for the fortune, at least not anytime soon. Like the other young app developers I talked to, Li and Pugatch see their early work as a way to get a feel for programming and to learn the craft.
"I get to learn a lot and I get to work with awesome people," says Pugatch, who calls Li "a genius kid." "I'm passionate about the project and I'm making a name for myself with the startup community really early in my career."
Pugatch sees college and maybe a computer science degree ahead -- and then a startup, for sure.
"I've always been inspired by these small projects having a huge impact on a certain market," he says. "You know, the generic Facebook story: a college kid in his dorm, working on a project that changes the world. Anybody with a laptop and some code can change the world."
It's a way of seeing the future that wasn't available to previous generations who spent their high school years filling gas tanks, flipping burgers and mowing neighbors' lawns.
"It's a totally different landscape," says Karen Thurm Safran of iD Tech Camps, a Campbell outfit that provides programming classes for teenagers nationwide. "When we were in school, we would get jobs that were baby-sitting or working as a waiter, busing tables. And now kids are just so tech savvy, that as long as they have the opportunity, they can learn these skills."
And so for Li, the future looks like MIT or Yale or maybe Stanford and a career in some branch of computer science. Who knows? He might end up working with Austin Bisharat, a Piedmont High School senior and iD alum, who developed "Ghost Attack," a mobile game available for the iPhone.
"I definitely want to be a computer scientist or a programmer in Silicon Valley as my career," Bisharat says. "I'm sure that's what I want to do."
Or maybe he'll team up with Kuriakose "Sony" Theakanath, a Bellarmine College Preparatory school junior who worked with another student to build an app to check on grades and school events. He's since created a quick way to upload screen shots to photo sharing site, imgur. And he's working on an app to answer one of life's truly vexing questions: when to wear pants.
"Weather is weird," Theakanath, 16, explains. "You don't know whether to wear pants or shorts." So, his app checks your location and the nearby weather. Then it uses an algorithm to deliver a verdict: pants or not.
Brilliant. And further proof that when it comes to apps, a new generation has us covered.
Contact Mike Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.