Liam Rosenfeld could tell something was up.
As the 16-year-old walked into the Mall at Millenia's Apple Store recently, he saw a swarm of employees and customers buzzing around a kiosk.
When he approached, the crowd parted, and there stood Apple CEO Tim Cook.
"I was not expecting that at all," said Rosenfeld, still flush and grinning ear-to-ear after meeting Cook. "It was such an amazing surprise."
Cook, 58, in town to speak at a conference, sat down for a short chat with Liam, who recently won a scholarship to attend Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, which starts June 3.
WWDC is one of the more highly anticipated conferences in the tech industry, with thousands of industry professionals making the trip to San Jose each year for a series of product announcements, workshops and all things Apple over the course of five days.
This year, 350 scholarships were made available to students nationwide, including Rosenfeld.
The Lyman High School sophomore has grown a coding club he started in November to 16 people, equally split between boys and girls.
His mobile app, which converts images into art made up of symbols and numbers known as ASCII, has a 4.2 rating on the App store. He also has two other apps in development, including one that teaches musicians how to tune their instruments through game play.
Rosenfeld says it's clear to him what he should focus on in school.
"There aren't many things you can get into in high school and use it to move toward a career path," Rosenfeld said. "Computer science is what is driving change."
In a back conference room at the Apple store, Cook sat with Rosenfeld as he explained the mobile apps he had created, gathering feedback directly from Cook, one of the foremost experts of mobile apps in the world.
"My eyes aren't as good as yours," Cook joked, as he peered at Rosenfeld's apps.
Cook said the Central Florida teen impressed him.
"He has a quality that I think is on a short list of characteristics that drive success, and that is curiosity," said Cook, after talking with Rosenfeld about the creation of the coding club.
Apple's App Store, which debuted in July 2008, now supports more than 2 million applications, many of which are created by students and others who have used the platform to make a living.
In Florida, jobs created through mobile application-based companies has grown by 51% during the last two-plus years, according to Apple officials.
Cook has long been an advocate for teaching coding in schools as a second language.
Offering scholarships to WWDC gives Apple a chance to help contribute to what has become a growing need for a tech workforce, Cook said.
"You need public, private, non-governmental organisations working together because this is not a trivial transformation that needs to happen here," he said. "We have an obligation. We are fortunate to have had some success."
Mary Acken gave up a long career in the defence industry to become a computer science teacher at Lyman.
She helped Rosenfeld establish the coding club. A UCF graduate, she says she has noticed that younger students come into her classroom with more coding skills, which means efforts by some schools to teach it earlier have been paying off.
"It's amazing how native it is to some of these kids," she said. "This year, in particular, I see how much more advanced and developed students are in 10th grade than even seniors." – The Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service