Interview with Connor Mulcahey(@milkheady)
Another great interview...
3 years ago, Apple announced a contest. After releasing their App store only nine months before, Apple put out a challenge, the person to download the one billionth app would receive a $10,000 iTunes gift card, a 32GB iPod Touch, a Time Capsule, and a 17 inch Macbook Pro. The winner of this contest Connor Mulcahey, was only thirteen. Oh and I forgot he goes to my school. Read my five questions with "the boy who won it all," now 16, and learn what he is doing these days, thanks to being one in a million.
How/why/when did you get in to development, and technology?
After winning the Billionth App Contest in eighth grade, my mom put together a binder full of articles from around the internet and the world about me and my winnings. This binder comes out every once in a while when we have guests over and my mom wants me to tell the story. One of the things I noticed about the articles was all the nasty comments about how I didn't need a 17" MacBook pro, along with all the other goodies. Many people felt that I wouldn't put my new powerful computer to good use and thus it was a waste to award it to me. I ignored these for a couple years but I began to realize that I really only used the thing for internet browsing, iWork, and iLife; the commenters were right. I decided I wanted to prove them wrong by putting it to better use. I settled on iOS app development because I thought it was applicable since that was how I won the computer. Also, app development interested me because I love to make things. Apps, to me, seemed like the ultimate blank canvas. Especially on the iOS platform, they combine the visual creativity of the arts with the problem solving and practicality of invention. I'd been making things out of K'nex since I was in pre-school, and I see app development as my graduation to a more adult creative medium.
What was your reaction when you figured out you won the Billion App contest? How did it go down?
I'll start from the beginning. My brother and I had been keeping an eye on Apple's countdown to a billion apps on their homepage for a week or so. On thursday, April 24, 2009, just after 4:00pm, my brother tells me the counter is about to hit a billion. He and I subsequently set up our family’s iOS devices and my MacBook. I had actually purchased the MacBook less than a month before after saving up over a grand by caddying and dog sitting. Anyway, we proceed to download dozens of free apps. We had figured out that the timer wasn't perfectly accurate by observing differences in the counter when we pulled it up on different screens. For this reason, we downloaded 121 apps over 15 minutes that spanned before and a little after the counter finished. Moments after we finished, I had to go to baseball practice. In the car on the way back, I saw I had an email from Eddy Cue, Apple’s VP of iTunes. I won. I tell my teammates and they’re incredulous. Lacking service to respond to the email, I asked to use my coach’s home computer when we arrived at his house where we were all to be picked up from. Right as I was about send the reply, my mom showed up in the drive way. She explains that she has received several calls claiming to be Apple telling her she won a contest. Thinking they were a scam, she hung up each time. By the time we pull in our driveway home, I was about to cry because I know it’s not a scam. I was afraid that Apple was about to give the prize of a lifetime to someone else. She cools off, calls Mr. Cue back and explains her skepticism. He proves his legitimacy and she authorizes the press release. The app was downloaded on my phone, so the prizes are awarded to me (my brother wasn’t old enough anyway). We didn't pick up the prizes until week later at the Stamford Apple store because they wanted to print my name on the gift card. I try to never brag about it or even bring it up in conversation so I don't sound arrogant. Still, I get asked about it at least twice a month nearly three and a half years later.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
I would say it has been learning the Objective-C language and how to develop apps on my own with no prior programming experience. I have heard of dozens of other kids who have done the same, many of them younger than I am, but I still feel as if I have never put more work into anything that I wasn't obligated to do. However, a better time to ask that question would be a couple months from now. I hope to submit my WHS Planner app (my first app which keeps track of grades, assignments, and the schedule of my school) to the store by Halloween. This would be the culmination of all the work I have done over the past year. At the same time, literally, I am working on the final writeup for my Eagle Scout project. I should hopefully be earning the rank by Halloween as well. If you asked me then, than I would hopefully be able to say that those are my two greatest accomplishments so far.
In your opinion, does age matter in the world of technology and design? Does your age effect you?
Yes, I do believe age matters in the industries of technology and design, though not in the way you'd expect. Being young, you still have the audacity, imagination and ambition to believe that you can achieve your dreams if you put your mind to it. Adults tell us this all the time as we grow up. Not only to they encourage us to have dreams, but we are often encouraged to dream big. But once we reach the real world, we realize that, to put it cynically, your childhood dreams are probably unrealistic and unachievable. But for the people who dream big enough, and don't question the plausibility of their dreams, their confidence in their goals is greater than any experienced adult in their field. This confidence is essential to achieving your dreams, but it fades away with age, giving the youth an advantage that puts them on a level playing field with the experienced. Age does affect me, though not through confidence; I have big dreams but I'd be perfectly willing to settle far short of them. Age more affects me in that I have a lot of things going on. Trying to be a developer, a student, and and athlete, among other things, is a balancing act. I think often about life after college where I could spend a lot more time on pursuing my passion than doing what is required of me.
What can we expect from you in the future?
After the WHS Planner app is complete, I plan to pass the baton onto another student to maintain after I graduate. I have asked my brother but he isn't interested so it seems like I'll be looking amongst the members of Weston's new programming club. I already have a list compiled of features I hope to add to this app in the future including support for PowerSchool attendance and an interactive school map. As part of my independent study, I plan to learn Android development and port the app to that platform as well. I also have a few app and website ideas that should keep me busy in college but I wont reveal what they are due to the competition in this industry for new ideas. Overall, I look for inspiration by asking myself what I'd want to use. What about the technology (and other things e.g. the student planner) that I use everyday does not do its job well? And how would I improve upon it? Sometimes the improvement would be a single feature, and wouldn't be worth undertaking. But when there is a lot of room for improvement, those are the tasks I hope to pursue. Finally, I hope to gain more knowledge of computer science in college to make the best apps and websites as I can. At this point, a lack of ideas is not holding me back, knowledge and time are. I look forward to the day when I can wake up and have run out of ideas, because that's when I'll have achieved my dreams.
Well if anybody from Apple, for some reason, is reading this, I hope a smile is creeping onto your face. Not only have you created a dedicated Apple-ite, you gave a kid a passion, and the means to investigate and experiment with that interest.
Conor, I hope that, someday, I will have the pleasure of interviewing you again when you are the founder of some successful app company.
Here is the desktop background I I designed for Connor. Click the button under the image to buy it.