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.
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 InfoSpace.com (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 StarGate-sgl.com
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
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."