By Maria Spotale-Leisk, August 21, 2013
Christopher Bolton’s BlackBerry buzzes incessantly in the upstairs living room of his ocean view Deep Cove home.
The person on the other end of the line could be from BlackBerry or Buckingham Palace — Bolton’s been in technology talks with both lately.
“My phone is going crazy,” he apologizes.
It’s Friday at 5 p.m. and Bolton has already put in his 40 hours this week. But, like most computer programmers, he’s always tethered to his smartphone.
A business-casual dressed Bolton quickly regains focus. He was just mentioning how the wine pairing app he developed — Which Wine — has reached 5,500 downloads.
“The wine app actually took off quite a bit, which is crazy to me because I haven’t done any marketing for it,” says Bolton.
At this point his mom politely strides into the room offering juice and cake. You see, her 16-year-old son, who is barely old enough to drink coffee, is a sommelier of sorts — by way of his successful app that has been translated into many languages.
“I’m just a kid in North Van, and this app I built is reaching people across the world,” Bolton says with astonishment.
Only a couple years ago he was tinkering with an iPod touch to learn the inner workings of an operating system for a smartphone. At the same time Bolton mined YouTube for tutorials on how to build a website, so he could stream media to other devices in his home.
Then, last year, newfound coding skills and confidence in tow, Bolton entered an app competition hosted by Microsoft. His parents’ dinner party dilemma — they were stumped on which wine to bring to their hosts — served as inspiration for his app idea.
Which Wine gave Bolton the credibility to approach BlackBerry, who put the call out last year for developers to design an app for them. So there he was, a Grade 10 student at Windsor secondary, carrying around a BlackBerry 10 prototype — and then eventually a limited-edition device.
Bolton holds out his BlackBerry cloaked in a red case.
“There are 12,000 of these in the world. “I’m number 207,” he reveals.
It was at the launch of the BlackBerry 10 in Vancouver that Bolton met the CEO of wireless commercialization and research firm Wavefront. He invited the computer programming prodigy to a wireless technology summit at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.
At the event, Bolton, while watching a presentation by a Hewlett-Packard rep, offered some input which impressed the crowd and even helped the presenter make his point.
“He said, ‘I owe you a beer later,’” recounts Bolton, who says he responded with: “I’m only 15 years old.”
Bolton laughs, “They all assume I’m older.”
So how does the teenager find time for a social life and a fledging career as a computer programmer?
“I like to keep them very separate. It’s always a constant balance,” says Bolton, who enjoys kayaking in his spare time.
He currently holds down a full-time job as an app developer with esportsdesk — a Vancouver-based company offering online registration and sports administration tools for amateur and youth teams.
In September, when Bolton starts Grade 11 at Windsor, he will unveil a new app designed specifically with his fellow students in mind.
The impetus for a timetable app (name pending) came from Bolton trying to navigate his high school block schedule, which fluctuates wildly. He explains how morning classes at Windsor rotate each day, while afternoon classes stay the same.
“It’s almost like a tradition — the Grade 8s not understanding what blocks to go to,” says Bolton.
Bolton’s game plan for his app is to have students glance at their smartphone and be able to see what class is coming up next. He eventually plans to incorporate a calendar function with sticky note reminders, sports schedules and staff contact information — in an attempt to oust the traditional agenda book.
The launch of the app comes at the same time the North Vancouver School District is reviewing their zero tolerance policy for electronics, says Bolton.
“They have kind of realized that [electronics policy] doesn’t really work,” figures Bolton. “If students are going to use [electronics], why not have useful information on them?”
The timetable app will be like a beta test, but, depending on how it’s received at Windsor, Bolton may pitch the app to other school districts.
Considering Bolton has already impressed the Duke of York with his timetable prototype, there’s no telling how far the reach will be.
Bolton was invited to meet His Royal Highness Prince Andrew this past May when Wavefront hosted the Duke to talk wireless innovation in Canada at the company’s headquarters.
Prince Andrew, who supports youth-driven technology initiatives, told Bolton: ‘I can’t wait to see what you come up with.’
Nonchalantly, Bolton produces a white business card, embossed with black cursive, from the Duke’s private secretary at Buckingham Palace. In between some intense security screening, she told him he reminded her of “this other guy we know in the U.K.”
The secretary was referring to British teenager Nick D’Aloisio, who created Summly, an app which simplifies the way news articles are presented on smartphones. This past spring, D’Aloisio became one of the youngest self-made millionaires after he sold Summly to Yahoo for a reported US$30 million.
Bolton figures he’s in the best place to position himself for success in the industry, saying Vancouver is on track to become another “Silicon Valley of the Pacific Northwest.”
“It’s a testament to Vancouver’s transformation into this hub of entrepreneurship,” he adds.
Post-secondary, Bolton plans to study computer science and business at university.
“BlackBerry is always pushing for the home [university], Waterloo,” he says.
Bolton sounds like he is leaning more towards a university near his home — BCIT or UVIC.
Right now his plan is to save money and buy an Android phone — and to continuing tinkering with technology.
“You don’t need a university degree before you can do something incredible,” says Bolton.
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