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Sinead Moriarty: Sell the piano and raise a computer whizz instead


Nick D'Aloisio, 17, is the creator of Summly, an iPhone app that condenses news articles

Nick D'Aloisio, 17, is the creator of Summly, an iPhone app that condenses news articles

Nick D'Aloisio, 17, is the creator of Summly, an iPhone app that condenses news articles

A 17-YEAR-old London schoolboy has sold an app for £20m (€23.6m) to Yahoo! Upon reading this astonishing story I began to reassess my feelings about how much time children spend on computers.

As parents we want our children to be running about in the fresh air. As a child I remember my mother putting us all out in the garden and saying 'play'.

It was up to us to use our imaginations to think up fun and exciting games to play with sticks, leaves, an old football and two half-broken deckchairs. And play we did. We dug deep and came up with creative ways to entertain ourselves.

We all want our children to be well-rounded. We read about studies that say children who learn music are brighter and cleverer, so we rush out and book piano and guitar lessons.

We are told that team sports are essential for children to be able to integrate into society, make friends and be socially confident. So, we charge down to the nearest football, GAA or tennis club and sign them up.

We learn that ballet will forever help our little girls' postures and give them poise. This will stand to them in later life as they lean gracefully against the water cooler in work.

So we sign them up and pay exorbitant amounts of money for pink tights and net skirts that will inevitably get caught in the car door and rip on the first day of class.

We are bombarded with surveys telling us that too much time on computers and video games will turn our children into social pariahs. They will be unable to communicate with other people, they will be long-haired, pasty-faced recluses.

So we drag them away from the computer and lock them out the back for 'fresh air', in between the monsoons and flooding.

"No child of mine is going to be a computer geek," we think firmly.

But perhaps it's time to reassess our children's after-school planning.

Nick D'Aloisio, the 17-year-old schoolboy who sold his app to Yahoo! taught himself how to code at the age of 12.

With the tools to code, he then invented Summly, which is an app that reduces lengthy news stories to mobile-friendly snippets. All of this took place in his bedroom on his computer. He said: "I was using Google and Bing and there were so many results to scroll through it was really inefficient. So, I build an algorithm that shared them and trimmed them."

A prototype of Summly attracted a $300,000 (€233,610) investment from the Honk Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing on Nick's 16th birthday. He formed his company and a year later Summly was sold to Yahoo! for the princely sum of £20m.

But what about 'poor' Nick, locked away in his room all the time. Surely he is damaged? He won't be able to cope with the attention and the success. He must be socially inept after all that time spent alone. I'll bet he's an introvert who never leaves his bedroom or washes.

Nick, who has short hair, looks like he showers a lot and is very handsome.

He seems like a very 'normal' boy and is currently dating a nice girl and getting on with his teenage life despite his incredible success.

Nick claims that the whole media frenzy around his life hasn't changed him. "I see my friends, see my girlfriend, maybe go to a party, try and play sport."

Is he worried about how sudden riches might change his relationship with his friends?

"People I don't know, they're probably going to see me differently. But my core group of friends don't. I'm not going to change as a person.

'I don't feel different. If the motivation had been money, I'd be going off laughing. But because the motivation was technology and product, this is just the beginning of what I want to do."

His parents should be very proud. This boy has a very clear view of where he's going and won't be fazed by the attention he's receiving.

He seems perfectly rounded and sensible and a lot more mature than most 17-year-olds.

Right, I'm off to sell the piano and buy the latest computer. When I get home, I'll drag the kids in from the garden and plonk them in front of it.

I might just pick up 'An Idiot's Guide To Coding' while I'm out . . . sure you never know.

Irish Independent