What these teen tech entrepreneurs think about Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, AI, the cloud and more

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Atul Ajoy, left, and Michael Royzen, right, are high school students and software developers who’ve launched their own startups. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Michael Royzen and Atul Ajoy have several things in common, besides being high-school students in the Seattle region.

They’re both entrepreneurs and software developers who, despite being in their teens, have already launched their own technology startups and projects. And they’ve both been invited to major software development conferences: Royzen, 17, attended Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco and Ajoy, 15, went to Microsoft Build in Seattle.

They had never met before, but it struck us that they would have a lot to talk about, and some interesting insights to share based on their similar but separate experiences. So we brought them together to talk about their experiences on the GeekWire podcast. And we weren’t disappointed.

Listen below, download the MP3, and keep reading for highlights.

Atul Ajoy will be a 10th grader next year at Redmond High School. A tech enthusiast and frequent blogger, he’s the founder of a startup called Chromata, which is “reimagining school fundraising with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain.” He wrote about his experience attending Microsoft Build in a guest post on GeekWire earlier this year.

Michael Royzen will be a senior at the The Bush School. He’s a software developer and entrepreneur who founded and serves as CEO of his own company, Mlab Technologies, Inc., which makes apps for Apple platforms, including Ryde and RecipeReadr. A past GeekWire Geek of the Week, he attended Apple’s Worldwide Developer conference at Apple’s invitation.

Michael Royzen
Michael Royzen develops iOS apps and interns at Microsoft Research.

Given their respective backgrounds and platforms of choice, we originally thought this might be a Microsoft vs. Apple conversation, but Royzen is actually interning this summer at Microsoft Research, giving him an understanding and appreciation for the Redmond tech giant, as well.

So at a time when many of their peers are focused on the Snapchats and Instagrams of the world, why are Microsoft and Apple relevant to these teen entrepreneurs? A big part of the answer is their developer platforms.

“Microsoft’s really relevant today because not only do they care about their first-party applications, but their cloud platform Azure and then other services that they provide really help third-party companies — even my own startup — to get started and build products that anyone in the world can use,” Ajoy said. “Microsoft doesn’t get enough credit for this, but they’re doing a lot of cool things that enable the next generation of technology.”

Atul Ajoy, wearing a HoloLens at Microsoft Build, is working on technology for school fundraising.

He cited, as an example, the Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality headset, which he got a chance to experience first-hand at Microsoft Build.

Royzen agreed with many of Ajoy’s comments about Microsoft, citing the company’s “huge, huge” focus on the cloud and artificial intelligence.

“Apple, I think is a very different company,” he said. “Apple is mostly a hardware company that’s focused on selling to consumers. They really ride waves of popular culture.” One notable difference, as he pointed out, is that Apple is doing machine-learning processing on-device vs. in the cloud.

They both use Amazon Web Services, thanks to AWS credits they were able to get as students. But they said they’re also impressed with the ease-of-use, rapid release schedules and features of Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

They’re also optimistic about artificial intelligence and expressed optimism that humanity can avoid the doomsday AI scenarios.

“There is reason to be wary of what’s coming,” Ajoy acknowledged, “but I think that if we band together and are responsible about what we do, we’ll see new companies form that are just as successful as these, and see that technology can transform our lives, the way we live, the way we communicate, and the way we almost do anything.”

“I think it will be a smooth transition, just like it was from no Internet to Internet. Perhaps it will be quicker, but it won’t be as if you wake up one day and robots have taken over the entire world, unless we’re incredibly irresponsible about AI. It will be a gradual transition, one towards a world where everything is more automated and hopefully people are more productive.”

What advice would they give to other teens who want to get started in software development or startups?

“Follow your passion,” Royzen said. “If you have this inkling of something you want to get started, that means there’s something in you that’s driving you.

“What really helped me is to look inside and figure out why you want to do this, and to use that as a starting point. For me, I was really fascinated by iOS, Apple’s consumer devices, and I wanted to see how I could help people by creating software solutions for those devices,” he said.

Ajoy agreed with that sentiment: “Don’t try until you know that you have a passion for it,” he said. “Once you do, it’s really easy to get to any point you want, because once you set your goal for yourself, if you want to do it, you can get there.”

“If you like what you do, it will become fun rather than hard,” he said. “Make sure this is your passion, decide what your passion is, and then follow it relentlessly, and you’ll definitely get as far as you want to go.”

Listen to the entire conversation above or download the MP3 here.

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