Oak Hill High’s whiz kid: A Web, software developer at 17

Chris Jones, a 17-year-old-student at Oak Hill High  School, has drawn attention to his work involving technology. Jones  credits the statewide program that gave him a laptop in seventh grade as the key to his success.
Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
Chris Jones, a 17-year-old-student at Oak Hill High School, has drawn attention to his work involving technology. Jones credits the statewide program that gave him a laptop in seventh grade as the key to his success.
Posted July 04, 2011, at 9:26 p.m.

WALES, Maine — Chris Jones is a computer software guy. He’s developing a Web business with five others and has created software that has attracted attention from the corporate giant Apple.

He has taught students and teachers about computers, recently speaking to an audience of 1,000 at a technology conference at the University of Maine. He’s speaking to teachers at Bowdoin College this summer, and at another conference that has to be worked around his class schedule this fall.

Jones is 17, a senior at Oak Hill High School.

His interest in technology began after he got his laptop as a seventh-grader at Litchfield’s Carrie Ricker Middle School.

Today his fingers fly across an iPad2 or a laptop, opening and explaining programs and apps. His poise and knowledge seem years ahead of his age.

People, including Maine Education Commissioner Steve Bowen, have noticed.

“During a presentation that blew the crowd away for its polish and professionalism, Jones told us how he touched every button and opened every program on the Maine Learning Technology laptop he was given as a seventh-grader,” Bowen wrote in his June 2 “Updates from the Commissioner.”

Oak Hill Principal Pat Doyle described Jones as “a self-starter, an entrepreneur in the computer world. He’s done a lot of work on his own developing software, working with people in other states and other countries.”

Jones of Litchfield said until the seventh grade he had no interest in computers. That changed when he got his own laptop. Curious, he opened up programs and apps, discovering they allowed him to do far more than write and research. He could create art, videos and three-dimensional blueprints.

He learned the laptop programs so well that as a seventh-grader, he started teaching other students and teachers, becoming known as a go-to guy.

Developing that reputation “forced me to learn more so I could stay on top,” Jones said. “You want to be the student who can show off [to] the teacher.”

In the eighth grade the basketball team asked him to film games. Jones used his laptop to make a DVD of the season’s highlights. He also made a DVD highlighting a class trip to Washington, D.C.

Then “I went beyond the laptop and started exploring Internet coding and creating a website,” Jones said, teaching himself to code and script Web pages and apps.

By the time he was in high school, he created his own website, Phireware, to host his work. “In high school is when I started working with people around the world.”

At 16, he created the MobileCube, an add-on to RoundCube, an Apple Web-based email client. His MobileCube is a cleaner, easier-to-use version of RoundCube that can be downloaded free, Jones said. “It makes it look like Apple’s MobileMe service. Within 10 months it was downloaded 23,000 times all over the world,” Jones said.

Apple noticed and asked if he’d license it to the company. He said yes. “It was meant to clone their own system,” he said. “In a sense they recognized me.”

In March he became part of “Studio 182,” a team of mostly teens who create Web and mobile software called Crystal Mail. He’s the lead interface designer. “I code and design the look of the program,” Jones said. “We’re all young except for one. We disclose our age because of age discrimination online.” Some don’t want software created by teens. “What we’re trying to show is, ‘Look, we can do awesome work and we don’t have to be old.’”

He started being asked to speak publicly after he helped organize a computer-based conference for Carrie Ricker students and faculty last spring. An Apple representative was at Carrie Ricker. Jones told him about the work he’d done, which led to Jones being invited to speak.

His lectures aren’t about teaching, but to inspire deeper use of laptops, he said. He tells students and teachers who he is, what he’s done, how others can get more out of their laptop.

“The Internet is bigger than Facebook,” he said.

He tells students that getting a laptop in the seventh grade “equals endless opportunity. I tell them, ‘You’ve been given a huge head start. Maine is the only state in the country to do this. Take advantage of that, and go with it.’”

Jones, who works at Sam’s in Lisbon Falls making pizzas, hasn’t decided which college he’ll attend after high school. Maybe he’ll become a project leader for a tech company. “I’d love to own my own business.”

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