WJ teen writes code we use every day
You probably use the apps Johnny Simmons’ creates every day if you have a Windows phone. He’s one of the hottest “writers” around. But you’d never guess he is a soon-to-be ninth grader at Sunset Ridge Middle School.
“It’s just something I like doing, and when I need a break I go outside and shoot hoops, just normal stuff,” said Johnny.
When Johnny was just 12 years old, he taught himself to write the code called C# to create his first app.
“I knew he was up here doing things on the computer, but I had no idea my 12-year-old son was up here learning to write code; I was a little shocked and amazed,” Jaelyn Simmons, his mother, said. “But on the other hand I know he is a smart boy, so I’m not surprised he taught himself to do it.”
Johnny’s first app was called DrawPad. When it was released it was one of the first on the market that allowed users to change the color and thickness of their notes.
“It was the first that integrated pictures and allowed users to save and load their notes,” Johnny said.
While creating his first apps, Johnny didn’t even own a cell phone.
“I used a program that would let you try the apps as you created them, but, no, I didn’t own a cell phone myself.”
That changed as soon as Windows figured out one of their top creators was a 12. Microsoft sent one of their employees to Salt Lake City to interview the young protégé and after that, they sent him a phone to use.
Johnny and his dad, who programs databases, created SimzzDev Studios once Johnny started to make a name for himself in the virtual world. Since then, the two of them have written and released nearly 50 applications used on Windows phones.
“We work on ideas together and he helps me and I help him,” Johnny said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Two years ago, Johnny and his dad attended a convention in Seattle organized by Microsoft for people who write app code. There were people from all over the world attending.
“There was this contest open to anyone who wanted to try,” Johnny said. “You had to create the best app in a four-hour time window. There were about 50 other guys doing it so my dad and I decided to give it a try.”
The app they created was a virtual signature Windows phone users could use while on the go.
“We won,” Johnny said. “I won $500. it was pretty cool.”
Since then, Johnny has been earning cash with his free apps.
“Every time someone opens one of my applications, there’s an ad at the top or bottom,” Johnny said. “It doesn’t matter if they click on the ad or not, because they opened my app the advertiser pays me a few cents.”
That spare change has added up over the years. Johnny has made thousands of dollars and plans to pay for his LDS mission when he turns 19.
“It amazes me that there is a pool of grown men working on making apps full time and my son sits in my house during his free time and does the same thing,” Simmons said. “I am really proud of him.”
Notoriety has its perks. Johnny is one of a few app writers given access to Windows 8 to start creating apps for tablets, phones and computers which will start using the program this fall. He’s also one of the young developers who are part of the Microsoft Dreamspark program created to help high school students get into the app market. Developer fees are waived and students are given access to the professional versions of the training videos to help them succeed in a world dominated by adults.
Unfortunately, frustration can be part of the app world.
“It only takes one little thing for an app you think is working perfectly to stop working,” Johnny said. “And there’s nothing worse than when someone give you a really low review but doesn’t leave a comment, so you have no idea why they didn’t like it and you can’t work to improve it.”
But setbacks are few and far between for Johnny, who only sees his future full of possibilities but with no real plans once he graduates from college.
“I know he is bigger than just this,” Simmons said. “I know he will do things in the future he can’t even imagine right now.”