BRAMPTON, Ontario, February 27, 2013 – On the second floor of Great Lakes Public School, the Grade 4 students spot Tanmay Bakshi.
“Tanmay!” they shout, halfway out of their coats from recess, running down the hall. “Tanmay, my buddy!”
The 9-year-old, wearing a striped sweater over a collared shirt, smiles as his peers swarm. Just this morning, the announcement went over the P.A. system: Tanmay created an app that was accepted by Apple. He has been elevated from “that kid who is really good at computers” to an elementary school celebrity.
After a few rejections from Apple, Tanmay finally perfected and launched his “tTables” app on Valentine’s Day. It’s designed for children: You answer multiplication questions and, depending on your knowledge, you hear
applause or the ominous buzzing of bees. In the vice principal’s office, he smiles at the sound effects.
“Did you want to see the code?” he asks, and launches a program on his MacBook Air, showing a screen filled
with numbers, letters and symbols he spent a month perfecting.
The Bakshi family immigrated to Canada from India in 2004, a year after Tanmay was born. His dad, Puneet, is a computer programmer at a trucking company, and also a math and science tutor at night and on weekends. His mom, Sumita, stays home, and his sister is in university.
Puneet’s name appears on the app as a technicality, because Tanmay is not yet 18. Puneet helps Tanmay when he can, but the 9-year-old created the app and has learned most of the coding on his own, playing on his computer and inhaling online tutorials after school.
“I don’t even wash my hands. I just go straight to the computer and start,” he says, with a big grin on his face.
“And then you are chased,” his dad says.
Tanmay usually has dinner with his dad at 11 p.m., when his dad is finished tutoring.
Tanmay knows Visual Basic, Python, FoxPro, C, SQL and Xcode, the Apple-specific language he is teaching his dad. In senior kindergarten, he helped fix his teacher’s computer. Last year, he made a series of YouTube videos to teach other people coding. His teacher says another boy in the class is now into code because of Tanmay.
“His writings, his thoughts, everything is about computers,” says Sumita, as she pulls out a notebook from Grade 2.
One story is about a lion cub who will only be happy with a “WEBSITE OF HIS OWN.” A photo of Bill Gates has been glued onto one page about an inspirational leader. Another story is the tale of a computer infected with a virus that ends in a pitch: “If you have a problem with a virus in your computer, please call Tanmay’s Virus Removal Express … WE WILL BE GLAD TO HELP YOU!”
At the bottom, a teacher has written in neat blue pen: “I would love that! I had 2 viruses last year.”
“From my heart, we aren’t of this place,” Sumita says, noting that all of their family members are still in India. “But the more they accepted us, the more they recognized my kids, the more at home I felt.”
Outside of computers, Tanmay likes science experiments — and running.
It’s an “odd kind of a thing,” Puneet explains of their father-son game, as Sumita and Tanmay laugh. The two take an old winter tire to a Brampton park and beat it with a stick to keep it rolling.
“People laugh at us,” Puneet says.
In addition to the app, Tanmay has made his own operating system — “First of all, I was thinking of selling it. Second of all, I just felt like making one,” he says — and a flashlight app. He’s working on an upgrade to tTables and a calculator app to help Grade 3 students understand remainders. He plans to create an app for high school students who need to know what courses to take to prepare themselves for specific university programs.
As he explains these ideas, his hands gesture with the assurance of a salesman convinced of the virtues of his product.
Nicholas Montgomery, an 18-year-old technology blogger and entrepreneur currently in Silicon Valley at a commerce start-up, said Bakshi is one of the youngest app developers he’s heard of. He noted that in 2011, a 7-year-old Ohio boy created an app where players spread toppings on toast.
“Globally as a phenomenon, there are people in the developing world who can write apps as well, as long as they have a $300 computer — and they can sell them for millions. Five or ten years ago, this type of distribution and network effect would have never been possible,” he said.
“With this type of technology, age doesn’t really matter, as long as someone has the motivation.”
Bakshi says he will one day have his own company that sells various operating systems — or he might apply for a job at Apple if making his own company is “a little too hard.”