South Charlotte

Providence student attends Apple conference

John Wickham was the only student app developer from Charlotte to place as a winner in the Apple 20 Under 20 contest for apps built by teens. He said that attending the Worldwide Development Conference in San Francisco left him “overwhelmed with all of the possibilities that are out there.”
John Wickham was the only student app developer from Charlotte to place as a winner in the Apple 20 Under 20 contest for apps built by teens. He said that attending the Worldwide Development Conference in San Francisco left him “overwhelmed with all of the possibilities that are out there.” KATYA LEZIN

John Wickham, 17, enjoyed the end of the school year when teachers and peers asked him about his summer plans.

The highlight of Wickham’s summer was his weeklong trip to San Francisco in mid June to participate in the Worldwide Development Conference sponsored by Apple. Wickham, a rising senior at Providence High School, was one of 350 students worldwide, ages 12 to 21, who won a paid scholarship to the conference. The students submitted new iPhone apps to be selected.

The contest launched on April 10, and the marching orders were, according to Wickham, “Tell us about yourself and showcase your talent and be creative with it.”

He said he designed an app that “featured prototypes of things I’ve done and detailed the progression of my interest and design.”

His app included a special feature. “One of the things that I’m most proud of is that there is a companion view on the Apple watch that isn’t on the iPhone app,” he said.

Wickham was in McDonald’s when he was notified that he won.

“I shouted out with joy,” he said.

It’s just who I am. Technology and software have always been fascinating to me.

John Wickham, rising senior at Providence High School

The conference also included special workshops for the contest winners and the opportunity to network with each other and other developers. Wickham’s parents and older sister joined him on the trip, since travel and lodging were not covered as part of the scholarship.

“Apple executives came and talked to us about their careers and gave us advice on what to do to going forward,” Wickham said.

There were also sessions that introduced new concepts and products, and labs that allowed participants to ask engineers for help with specific problems. But Wickham said his favorite part was the “downtime in the lounge reserved for the students, with comfy couches and whiteboards. I made some great friends.”

Wickham can’t remember when he started coding and working on app design.

“It’s just who I am,” he said. “Technology and software have always been fascinating to me.”

He was in seventh grade when he submitted his first app to the Apple app store.

It was free and was, he said, “a school productivity tool, with a checklist, a calculator, a web browser and a freehand drawing canvas all packaged into one app.”

He has designed six more apps since then, using them as a way of developing his design and coding skills in addition to trying to determine what the market wants.

“There are lots of resources online that tell you how to solve a specific problem,” Wickham said. “It is up to you to take all those resources and put them together into some kind of coherent product.”

Sometimes he responds to his own needs, such as when he created an app in eighth grade to make it easier to learn the periodic table of elements. And sometimes he creates an app to address someone else’s need, like the app he developed last year when a friend of his who is a disc jockey asked him for a pitchfork app. A pitchfork is a device used to slow down or speed up music.

“Everything has been self-taught,” Wickham said. “I wish there were a class I could take but there are lots of resources online.”

In the meantime, the June conference gave him clarity about what he wants to do with his life, whether he ends up pursuing computer science, product design or an entirely different career field.

“I always want to innovate and make a true impact on people’s lives,” he said.

Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: bowserwoof@mindspring.com.

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