On July 13th of this year, I had the opportunity to speak with Owen Voorhees, creator of the Math Time app ($0.99; squibner.com) and one of the youngest iPhone app developers. Math Time is an app version of the tried–and-true flash card method of learning math and includes drills for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. And while it doesn’t have a lot of visual or audio glitz, the app’s power is in its simplicity—it’s a textbook example of an intuitive interface.
On one level, Owen is an average kid involved with sports and video games. But there’s nothing average about a young man who develops one of the best rated educational apps out there. Owen is easy going, curious, and persistent—personality traits that help make him an innovator. And innovation is just what America needs during these challenging times. In The World is Flat, Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman says that we need to innovate and become “smarter at every level” to survive. At the age 11, Owen learned a computer language, wrote his own app, and started his own business. He sets an example for the rest of us on how to survive in Friedman’s flat world.
John Painter: Owen, thank you for letting me interview you. I’ve had a chance to try your iPhone app, Math Time and it’s really good. I have a few questions I’d like to ask you for iPhone Life magazine. To start off, how old are you?
Owen Voorhees: Umm, 11.
Owen: Well I do hockey as a sport and a little running, but lately I’ve been working on this project a lot. I like to read and do Legos and stuff like that.
John: You seem like a pretty average kid. So why did you decide to create this iPhone app?
Owen: I always liked computers and stuff, and I thought it would be really cool if I could make an iPhone app, and I thought it would be a fun project.
John: Tell me what it was like writing the app? Were you just confident you could do it? What was it like?
Owen: It was very hard. It would be a lot easier now, knowing everything I do, but it was hard getting started.
John: Do you have any plans to create any more iPhone apps, or add changes to this one?
Owen: I’m definitely going to keep doing it, and I’m thinking what I want to do next. I might expand Math Time, but I’m not sure yet.
John: Other than your own app, do you have any other favorites?
John: So you’re a business owner now; what’s it like having your own business?
Owen: It’s kind of tense; sales (reports) only come out once a day so you’re always waiting. I’m also thinking about what sales are going to be like tomorrow. But you know it’s not so bad.
John: Do you think kids should have an iPhone or iPod touch?
Owen: Yes they should. I think it’s great that there’re educational apps out there that people can learn from and can help them with school and stuff.
John: One last thing; where did you come up for the name for your company—Squibner?
Owen: Umm, my Dad came up with it. I don’t know where he got it, but I thought it was a cool name, so we used it.
Anyone who has written an iPhone app or explored writing one using Objective-C will appreciate the huge amount of material Owen had to learn. What I find most inspiring about Owen’s story is his willingness to learn and work hard to achieve success. Owen has had some financial success in his business, but the bigger payoff will be the discoveries he makes. One of the most important of these will be the understanding that, when you challenge yourself to learn something new, even when it’s a difficult subject, you gain the intellectual tools you need to succeed in life. As Thomas Friedman puts it… invent your way to prosperity.