April 28, 2012 -- Thomas Suarez, like many 12 year olds, spends a lot of time at his computer. But Suarez isn't just playing games or chatting with friends. More often than not, he's developing iPhone apps.
When he was 9, Suarez found himself downloading the iOS Developer ToolKit and simulation tool onto his computer, and teaching himself Python, Java and C.
Within a few months he had created his first app, Earth Fortune, and convinced his parents, Ralph and Margaret, to shell out $99 to get his wares into Apple's App Store. He even started his own company, CarrotCorp.
"After Earth Fortune launched, I had eventually saved enough money to buy an iPod Touch," Suarez told ABC News.
And with that he was off and running. He has since designed other apps, including "Bustin Jieber," a game that lets users, well, whack Justin Bieber when he moves to a different location on the screen.
CarrotCorp now sells four mobile applications for the iOS platform; two are free and the other two cost 99 cents each.
"I've made a lot of money for a kid," says Suarez, now 12 and a sixth grader in Manhattan Beach, Calif. In November, he bought an iPhone with his earnings and also attended the Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Since that time, Suarez started an app club at his school, helping other kids build and share their creations, and also gave a Ted-X Talk, which was seen by nearly 2 million viewers on You Tube.
In his talk, Suarez said that kids needed to learn these kinds of skills and be given the technology and resources to do so, because they're the foundation for future jobs. He also talked about role reversal, in that the young must teach their elders about new technology.
That talk caught the attention of Craig Hatkoff, the co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival. "It touched a chord in virtually anybody who saw it," said Hatkoff, who began mentoring Suarez through email and Skype. "He talks about the idea that kids don't necessarily want to play games, they want to learn how to make games. The whole notion that kids will take ownership if you give them something interesting that they want to do. To me, that was a revelation."
And Hatkoff had given Suarez even more tools to build. A couple of months ago, he bought Suarez one of his favorite gadgets in the world – a MakerBot 3D "desktop replicatior" (or a 3-D printer) that allows one to design and print objects. Within four weeks, Suarez had taught himself how to use it.
On Friday, Suarez, along with folks like Twitter's co-founder Jack Dorsey, filmmaker Edward Burns, MakerBot founder, and -- ahem -- the real Justin Bieber were honored at Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards.
At the event, Hatkoff gave Suarez a Disruptive Innovation award in the shape of a hammer, and Suarez gave Hatkoff his MakerBot creation. But that's not enough for the ambitious 12-year-old. There's more to build, he told us, as he preps to start developing his next iPhone game and learning how to develop for Android.
"I started off thinking Thomas would become my protege," Hatkoff said, when he presented Suarez with this award. "I have now learned, I am his protege."