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May 07, 18:22 EDT

Internet prodigy rides wave of success

By Tanya Ho
Canadian Press

Keith Peiris was only three when he first started fiddling around on a computer. Three years later, at age six, neighbours were calling him to install Windows 95 on their hard drives.

Last July, Keith, then age 11, became president and chief executive officer of Cyberteks Design. The budding entrepreneur designs Web sites for companies that want an Internet presence.

What distinguishes the Grade 6 student's pages from others is how creatively he uses a computer software program called Macromedia Flash that incorporates animated graphics with sound to produce lively pages that can be quickly downloaded for view.

''What inspired me to start the company was it enables you to broadcast your art in vast ways to the world.

''That was my main focus, and to maybe make a little money,'' says Keith.

Since July, Cyberteks Design has had revenues of about $100,000 with 15 customers who are mostly American. Keith's site averages more than 1,000 hits each day.

Keith's father, Deepal Peiris, 50, helps him run the company located in the basement of their London, Ont., home. They have plans to hire five Web designers by the spring of 2001 and eventually take the company public.

After Keith came home from school one recent afternoon in April, father and son were about to interview a potential employee. The boy dismissed any suggestion of conflict between a 12-year-old boss and employees two to three times his age.

''I really don't care. And the people around me don't care. They just consider me a normal person. There is no difference (among us), except maybe in skill but that has nothing to do with age,'' he says.

Keith's father did ask applicants whether they can work for a boy.

''Several top people working at major Web-designing companies are applying to work under him. I told them: 'Are you aware that the president of the company is a 12-year-old kid?''' says Peiris.

'''Yes, we know that,' they say. 'We want to come and work for him because he's good. He knows better than us. We are prepared to learn from him,' they say.''

Indeed, the many awards and accolades that Keith has received for his work are testimony to his talent. His resume, including press releases and newspaper clippings, is three pages long. His recent accomplishments:

Feb. 23, 2000 - Cyberteks Design listed in the Branham 50 top Web design companies in Canada, published by the National Post Business Magazine.

Feb. 4, 2000 - Three Web sites designed by Keith were selected as finalists at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.

Dec. 17,1999 - Keith was nominated to the Millennium Dreamers Award, sponsored by McDonalds Restaurants and Disney Company, in association with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Oct. 30. 1999 - Keith won the runner-up award for the Best Sales and Marketing Web site at the Atlantic Digital Medial Festival Awards '99 held in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.

Keith's father says his son, an A-plus student, has always been driven to be the best.

''He wants to be No. 1. Some people treat that as a weakness. But I don't. How can I say to you that if you want to be No. 1, don't try to be No. 1. Be No. 5?''

In March, Keith was the youngest panelist to speak about Web design at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, an annual international conference in Austin, Texas. The room was jam-packed with about 200 people. He was nervous, says Hugh Forrest, the event's director.

But who wouldn't be at age 12?

''Keith is very good. He needs to develop a little more to get to be a top-notch person. But for his age, he's phenomenal,'' says Forrest.

Keith was also the finalist in three of all four categories in his age group for his Web designs. Compared to other panelists who are usually 25 years old, Keith still has lots of time to polish his skills, says Forrest.

''If he keeps developing as quickly as he has developed now, he'll be leaps and bounds above them in a number of years.''

After Keith comes home from school every day, he does his homework before he works for up to five hours a night - designing pages or giving quotes for contracts.

His weekend schedule is also dependent on the time he spends on the ice as a goalie for a minor hockey league.

''To tell you the truth, I didn't know I was going this route until I was nine or 10,'' he says.

''My long-term goals are: I plan to go to university and have one or two PhDs in computer science and business,'' says Keith.

[Speak Out]

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