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Youth triumphant
March 07, 2000
Just nine months after after founding his London, Ont., website design Cyberteks Design, Keith Peiris has earned nearly a dozen awards and nominations in American, Canadian and British Web design competitions and trade shows.

He's amassed such clients as the Canada Wide Science Fair 2000, Double D Truck Specialties in Florida, and DJ Amer in Pennsylvania, and struck e-commerce partnerships with (INSP) in Washington and PSIGate in Toronto. He's also a finalist for another three awards and will be a panelist at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 11 and 12.

Oh, and another thing. Keith is 12 years old.

The shortage of technically skilled labor coupled with the explosion of cyberbusinesses has created a demand for anyone with the appropriate background, regardless of age. It's often creative youngsters, unbridled by adult obligations of running households and full-time jobs, who have the time to tinker with computers and learn the new software.

"Younger people adapt to these new technologies much more quickly, because they learn faster, and the Internet allows them to get in front of hundreds of millions of people," says Rob Burgess, chairman and CEO of Macromedia (MACR), which makes the Flash and Shockwave software that Keith uses to design his websites. "Keith has talent and can do things on the Internet that are actually competitive with mainstream industries."

The only child of a computer consultant father and chemist mother, Keith started playing with computers at age 5. By age 9, he began teaching himself html code and other programs from the Net. "I surfed the Web a lot and noticed that I could probably do it," he says. "At first I did it to have fun, but after I got really good at it, I wanted to make money after spending so much time buying hardware and software."

After securing venture capital (from his parents) and investing his own money (made from shoveling snow and delivering newspapers), he spent three hours a day tending to his company. Since its June 24, 1999, incorporation, he's made about $15,000 in revenue and $10,000 in profit.

Keith's father saw such potential in his son's business that in January he quit his job as a sales and marketing manager for Coral Technologies in London, Ont., to work with his son full time. "He decided he'd rather make money for himself than work for someone else," says Keith. "He's now Cybertek's vice president of operations."

Nowadays, Keith puts in 25 to 30 hours a week on top of his schoolwork designing websites and answering company email. In between, he squeezes in a few nights for friends and hockey practice. (Keith plays goalie and his team, the London Red Circle Raiders, is in second place.) So what happens when school becomes more demanding? "By then, I'll probably have a few employees working for me, so I won't lose too much work," he says. "I've already hired a salesman."

Keith went looking for work. But sometimes work finds you (or should that be "finds youth"?) Corporations are so hungry for talent these days, that they will sometimes offer a gig to a youngster with a good idea who belongs to the same demographic as the product audience. That's what happened with Sean Fitzgibbons of Wellesley, Mass.

Last November, Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios (MGM) in Santa Monica, Calif., hired the 18-year-old high school senior to redesign the website for its Stargate SG-1 syndicated television series.

His entree was that of a fan, but one who could execute his vision for the show's online representation. Fitzgibbons showed up on MGM's radar after creating the most innovative Stargate fan site its producers had seen on the Web -- a linked community of related sites with contributions from more than 100 people in seven countries. (The site took Fitzgibbons up to 10 hours a week to maintain.)

The site includes an elaborate diary of one of the characters, episode guide, show encyclopedia, video clips and sections in French and German. Fitzgibbons has incorporated some of these elements into the revamped official site, which launches at this month, eventually phasing out the old site. He'll then begin work on MGM's Poltergeist and Outer Limits sites.

"Sean not only knows what the medium is capable of doing, but what the fans want," says Geoff Gordon, MGM's executive director of marketing. "He is of the same mindset, and has also developed his own StarGate community from around the world."

Fitzgibbons began tinkering around with the Web when his family went online five years ago. "Back then it wasn't the big thing it was today," he says. "Once I discovered how much information and entertainment I could access with a computer, I wanted to help create that."


Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist based in Los Angeles. She has written for the New York Times, Playboy and Entertainment Weekly.

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