While other teenagers are playing "Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas" or "Resident Evil 4" on their PlayStation 3s or Wiis, 15-year-old Bryan Field of St. Elmo is busy creating a barcode generator and an encryption program for his father’s business.
The home-schooled teenager recently earned distinction as a certified java computer programmer and may be the youngest one in Tennessee. "I doubt we have many other teenagers who are certified," said Jacki Decoster, global communications officer for Sun Microsystems Inc., the owner of the Java programming language. "It’s usually older people in the work force." The company does not keep records of test takers, but she said Bryan’s distinction is "very rare," if not unique.
Alan Field, Bryan’s father and the owner of SurfN Development, a business software developer and service company, said Java is the computer programming language of the coming age. By using multithreaded connections, he said, it is exponentially faster than singlethreaded systems and far more complex. "We’re probably at the sunrise of it," Mr. Field said. "By the time (Bryan) is 20, Java will probably be normal."
Bryan, who has been programming since age 10, said Java certification is the next step toward getting certified as a Java developer and a level toward being certified to run a mobile application or an enterprise-class application. "I expect to continue with it," he said. "Before getting certified, I (already) thought of myself as a programmer." For the test, Bryan purchased a voucher through Sun Microsystems, arranged to take it online through global testing provider Prometric and took it at New Horizons Computer Learning Center. "I knew I was going to pass it," he said. Finishing the test, which had a three-hour time limit, in two hours, Bryan said his only hiccups came because he had studied for a 1.4 version of the course, and the test was for the 1.5 version. "There were a couple of new things," he said.
Mr. Field said his son has both "a gift for logic and understanding" when it comes to programming skills but also has profited from his association with the family business, which is on the f irst floor of the St. Elmo building in which the family lives. "We’re in a unique environment where we work and live in the same place," he said. "(Bryan’s) in fertile ground. He gets more mentoring as a protégé than he otherwise might."
Mr. Field said his son has spent time on the phone with computer engineers around the world and interacts "with higher-level thinkers" at weekly meetings of the Chattanooga Engineers Club "Being in that environment, he had no choice but to excel," he said.
Bryan said he averages 10 to 20 hours a week learning the Java language or programming in Java and receives credit in his home-school training for his work.
Lest it be thought the young programmer spends all his time at the computer, he also plays the piano, helps his father with tasks such as landscaping and wiring, and has begun to teach the piano and the computer.
As a typical teenager, he also occasionally gets "tired of figuring out the (programming) logic" and has a notion to play some games. Bryan said he plays games "a fraction of what most people (his age) do" and now does his gaming on the portable computer "I used to play on Nintendo," he said, "but I realized if (the game) works on my PC, you do not have to have the extra equipment." "Timeless" games from the 1980s and 1990s that may be played for free are Bryan’s preference, but his favorite is "F-15 Strike Eagle 3," a 1980sera flight simulation game. "It will stress you out," he said.
The game is not available on current platforms. "I could (convert) it," Bryan said, "but (working alone) it would take years." And what’s one game when his current Java work is a part of a computer language that will, as Mr. Field pointed out, "usher in the new age."