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Microsoft YouthSpark Star Felix Guttbier

This 14-year-old app developer shared the stage with Chancellor Angela Merkel at a tech conference in Germany.

YouthSpark Star Felix Guttbier

Apps from the Dark Side, by 14-year-old Felix

He has shared the stage with German chancellor Angela Merkel. He’s been recognized by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He’s been on stage at one of the world’s largest tech conferences. He has made six apps for Windows. But he can’t have his own developer account in the Windows Store. Because he is 14 years old.

“You can really distinguish the good coder from the average by the question she or he asks. The kind of questions Felix asks are extraordinary.”

Felix Rieseberg, start-up developer evangelist for Microsoft in San Francisco

Young developer Felix Guttbier appeared on stage with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Microsoft Germany CEO Dr. Christian P. Illek at CeBIT 2013.

Young developer Felix Guttbier appeared on stage with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Microsoft Germany CEO Dr. Christian P. Illek at CeBIT 2013.

In a matter-of-fact tone, Felix Guttbier lays out the plan for his future: “I will study informatics,” says the teen, who lives in Gerichshain near Leipzig, Germany. “If it is a success, I want to work for Microsoft.”

It’s that type of ambition that Microsoft hopes to channel with YouthSpark, an initiative that has created opportunities for more than 300 million young people worldwide and now promotes access to computer science.

DreamSpark and BizSpark, both Microsoft YouthSpark programs, aim to close the skills gap in Germany. The country faces a scarcity of skilled labor in information technology (IT) fields and support for IT-related entrepreneurship. In 2012, for example, an estimated 38,000 IT jobs in Germany couldn’t be filled, according to Bernhard Rohleder, chair of the Bitkom trade association.

Felix Guttbier and his father, Henry Guttbier, visit the Dark Side Bakery in Berlin, where Felix worked on app development.

Felix Guttbier and his father, Henry Guttbier, visit the Dark Side Bakery in Berlin, where Felix worked on app development.

Felix credits his father, Henry, for kindling his initial interest in building apps.

The elder Guttbier creates websites with ASP.NET for small companies, nonprofits, and private citizens, his son explained. Felix quickly followed his lead, writing his first website in ASP.NET at the age of nine.

He followed that up with his first attempt at building an app for Windows Phone, a finance calculator , but it wasn’t successful, he said.

Felix got an account in DreamSpark, a program that supports technical education through access to Microsoft software, which gave him access to additional resources.

Because Felix was interested in programming more, his father sought out Microsoft events that the boy could attend. The boy was invited to one day of the Student Technology Conference in Berlin. A Microsoft employee noticed his interest and invited him back the next day.

Felix Guttbier, front, poses with Dark Side Bakery team members, from left, Tom Wendel, Felix Rieseberg, and Patric Boscolo. The space, funded by Microsoft, is a hub for developers.

Felix Guttbier, front, poses with Dark Side Bakery team members, from left, Tom Wendel, Felix Rieseberg, and Patric Boscolo. The space, funded by Microsoft, is a hub for developers.

Then he found the Dark Side Bakery in Berlin, a temporary hub for app developers and start-up founders that is funded by Microsoft. The team offered space, support, and networking (and lots of food and drink) for participants to help them develop apps for Windows 8 and further develop their business ideas.

“Felix pressed his dad to take him to Berlin,” said Patric Boscolo, who runs Dark Side Bakery with two colleagues, in collaboration with Stephan Jacquemot, the lead for BizSpark. “For the first time he was in an environment with a lot of geeks. All had the same purpose.”

Felix used the shared space to work on the finance calculator app for housing credits, talk about new technologies and discuss what he likes to develop. He also asked a lot of questions. “He learned a lot about coding software, the Windows operating system, and program languages in general,” remembered Boscolo.

Felix and his dad finished the app during a week-long stay in Berlin. “They visited us several times in Berlin afterwards,” shared Boscolo. “That’s one hundred miles just to visit!”

When Felix eventually shipped his finance calculator app through the Windows Store (he uses his father’s account since he’s not 18), Microsoft invited him to CeBIT, the world’s largest computer expo, held in Hannover, Germany. That’s where he shared the limelight with Chancellor Merkel.

“Meeting her was an honor,” said Felix.

He also met Ballmer at an event there, and he was thrilled to get the former Microsoft leader’s autograph on the app tile of his first app, the finance calculator. He has also coded an app to track warranty certificates and one, his most popular, that generates random passwords.

“Felix was quite curious and extremely energetic,” recalled Felix Rieseberg, another member of the Dark Side Bakery team. “It was impressive to see him grasp certain concepts on the spot.” Rieseberg, now a start-up developer evangelist for Microsoft in San Francisco, said Felix still has a lot to learn but he has no doubt that the young enthusiast will go far.

“You can really distinguish the good coder from the average by the question she or he asks,” said Rieseberg. “The kind of questions Felix asks are extraordinary.”

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