Interview: The youngest ever winner of the WWDC scholarship, Ayush Kumar, is ready for WWDC 2020

Swift Playground on iPad
Swift Playground on iPad (Image credit: iMore)

Last year, when Apple announced the winners of its WWDC scholarship, a program that sends students to the tech conference and gives them a free one-year Apple Developer, one of the recipients of the scholarship was a 10-year-old boy named Ayush Kumar. Of course, Ayush received some attention at WWDC 19, considering the fact that student applicants are supposed to be over the age of 13. Ayush, whose parents are also coders, had been toying around with coding since the age of four. The iPad came out right around the time Ayush was born, so you could almost say he was born with a silver iPad in his hands.

So what has Ayush been up to for the past year? We caught up with him and his dad, Amit, right after he'd finished school (which, for now, takes place remotely via Zoom).

Ayush is now 11 years old (happy birthday, Ayush!) and in the 5th grade. At his school, 5th grade starts middle school, so he's big-time now. "I enjoy it [school] a lot, there's a lot of creativity and designing and building," Ayush said.

Although he's now a middle-schooler, for the past few months, Ayush has been attending his classes remotely. "It has its advantages and disadvantages," said Ayush about whether he prefers going to a physical school or attending remotely. "An advantage is that I get to play video games on my breaks and that's fun. But the disadvantages are that I can't be with people in person and there are some connection issues." In the end, he's looking forward to going back to in-person school. It's more fun.

My dad introduced me to coding, and I was like, 'Oh, I want to do this, too' and I started learning code.

Ayush self-identifies as a coder. "I, like my parents, am a coder," he said. "My dad introduced me to coding, and I was like, 'Oh, I want to do this, too' and I started learning code." At 11 years old, he's actually been coding for longer than some adults I know. Ayush started when he was four years old.

"Ayush has been playing around with computers since he was born," Ayush's father, Amit, tells me. "As Apple fanatics, we got the iPad when it first launched, and he got comfortable playing around with it."

Ayush's connection with coding started with the app ScratchJr on the iPad. "He liked playing around with it, and then, as they say, it escalated from there — from ScratchJr to Scratch, and then to a bunch of other languages and programs," said Amit. "By the time he was 8 or 9, he got a better sense that, this is what mom and dad do."

Though Ayush is not like your typical 11-year-old, he still, very much, is. For example, he loves cars. The difference is, Ayush wants to engineer the first flying car. "Not just flying cars," he notes. "Cars that can sense altitude so there can be sky freeways and no traffic, there will just be cars on top of cars." Though he's done plenty of coding in the past year, he has also moved on to other things. School, for example, has kept him busy enough that he hasn't had as much time for coding.

Ayush wants to build, not just flying cars, but 'Cars that can sense altitude.'

He's also been taking advantage of his school's curriculum to learn even more about computers. He's learned how to make a few programs using simplified GS. He also made book light and music box in his design in computer class. In fourth grade, he used Raspberry Pi and a Pi camera model to make a security camera that takes a picture every five seconds that automatically uploads the picture to a website, which refreshes to show the new picture. He's also learning how to use escape code to execute text commands.

"One of the interesting things about Ayush, because he's been doing coding and logic for so long is that he has the basics down very well," said Amit. "One day, he's using Terminal and he presses the arrow key and of course all of this escape code shows up. I explain to him what it was and he says, 'Oh, interesting.'"

"So I go away, and he goes and does some web search and the next thing he says, 'Dad, come over here,' and shows me some colored text he had made because he figured out what it [escape code] can actually be used for."

"A lot of what parents struggle with is, when you say 'code' they wonder, 'what do you mean by code? should we get them some coding classes on Khan Academy or something?'It's less about that. It's more about just exposure."

Amit is excited about the future of coding for kids. It's much easier than it was when he was learning. The barrier to entry has been removed.

"When Swift Playgrounds came out, I was personally very excited because you can see that leap from XCode where you can write a linear program, to Swift Playgrounds where there are scenes and stuff happening in the scenes. Very much like how you would treat a Scratch program but also with the functionality in there. There is a balance. You lose that fear of computing. You can see it build up to a game, which everyone understands."

15 or 20 years ago, we got computing all wrong. We started in the wrong place. These kids are learning it from the right place.

"15 or 20 years ago, we got computing all wrong. We started in the wrong place," Amit said. "These kids are learning it from the right place, which is; Make a game. Turns out that's much easier than figuring out how to write in Python."

Ayush was a bit of a celebrity at WWDC 2019. He was interviewed by ABC, USA Today, and more. He didn't just make the interview rounds, however. Ayush got some great advice from Apple's engineers. "I learned a lot of new things about coding, I learned some new concepts, like APIs." Just like the rest of us, his favorite part about going to WWDC was attending the opening keynote. "It felt really cool that I was seeing some new technology before anyone else, like some of the first people to be looking at new stuff."

So, what about the virtual WWDC in 2020? Ayush will definitely be attending, but hadn't yet made official plans to enter this year's Swift Student Challenge. He's still, technically, not old enough to enter. Though I have a feeling Apple would make an exception for him again if he wanted to apply.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).