The problem with Apple's '20 Under 20' campaign

It used to be in fields like modeling or acting where experienced professionals constantly had to look over their shoulders as ever-younger competitors seemed to appear out of nowhere and rival their achievements. Based on a recent marketing campaign from Apple, however, there's nothing less exciting than a middle-aged app developer.

As part of the buildup to its Worldwide Developer Conference this week, Apple debuted its "20 Under 20" program, a series that profiles people who started coding as early as age seven and who already have apps available in the App Store.

"[Making apps isn't] as hard as people think," one developer in the program told USA Today. "Coding has a certain stigma to it, since it's complex numbers and math. I think it's fun and exciting."

Yes, it is! In fact, you could argue it's so exciting that Apple shouldn't need to trade in such blatant ageism.

I realize there is value in encouraging other young people to pick up their MacBook Airs and start making mobile games, but the challenges in the app economy aren't necessarily about getting started. They're about getting people to download an app, to use it often and, most critically, to make money with it. Maybe these whippersnappers in the 20 Under 20 program have these things all figured out, but I doubt it.

In fact, I would have been quicker to applaud Apple if it had launched a "20 Over 50" program, highlighting those who applied their hard-won wisdom in fields like sales, marketing or other paths to the hard work of building a real career as a full-time app developer. Since it's probably going to be near-impossible for many of us to ever retire anyway, wouldn't making apps be equally appealing, at least potentially, to an older generation as well?

There's also the question of what apps all these kids will make. Just as Silicon Valley startups are sometimes accused of focusing too much on the problems of white men in their early 20s, what younger developers may need is not so much programming assistance as some perspective on how apps might actually make the world a better place. Some of those profiled in 20 Under 20 are making things like study aids and weather apps, which are probably great, but I'm interested in seeing what aging Boomers might see as innovative mobile app opportunities.

Of course, it is the duty of older generations to dismiss those who will eventually take their place. Maybe in 20 years those in the 20 Under 20 program will have their own thoughts on how the generation to come should spend its time. I certainly don't expect them to listen to me--after all, I'm already past 40. --Shane