Maxwell Stone: the programming phenom

Joanna Chait

When Maxwell Stone was 10 and his brother was eight, their father created a competition between them: whoever created an app that was accepted onto the App Store would get the latest iPhone. 

Most 10-year-olds enjoy running around in the park, playing make-believe, or reading basic chapter books. Not Maxwell. At the age of 10, he pursued an interest in programming and app creation. This began his path toward creating five apps, and winning The Congressional App Contest two years in a row, at the ages of 14 and 15. 

Maybe you have seen a tall, skinny freshman with short brown hair, probably wearing skinny jeans, a t-shirt, and Nike sneakers. You might have spotted him working in the robotics lab, playing guitar in the band room, fixing technology in the upper-level of the library, or on his computer quietly working on what appears to be an indecipherable code of symbols and numbers. The chances are you’ve seen two-time Congressional App Contest winner, Maxwell Stone. 

At the early age of 12 and just a sixth-grader, Stone finished his first app called “Yo Notes,” an app designed for taking notes. The design looks like a lined piece of white notebook paper, with a plus button on the right-hand corner which should allow one to write information down and store it in the app. Although the app is downloadable, it’s far from functional, crashing immediately after trying to take a note. After opening the app, a recorded audio of Stone plays. It describes the app’s function and that “Yo notes” means “I notes” in Spanish. (“I Notes” in Spanish is “yo notas”) 

Despite the failure of “Yo Notes,” Stone’s app-making career was far from over. He taught himself how to program using YouTube and other internet sources. Then, he went on to win the Congressional App Contest in 2018 as an eighth-grader, competing against thousands of high-school students. Stone was the only middle schooler. “It’s a competition run by Congress where you submit apps for your House representative in your district and then your House representative picks whichever app they like best,” Stone said. The contest had around 5,200 participants and named about 420 winners nationally in 2018. The next year, Stone entered the contest again, and to no surprise won it for the second time. Last year he submitted a winning app called “Land Marks the Spot,” which can be downloaded on the iOS App Store. The application identifies landmarks seconds after a picture is taken. “It sends the photo to Google, and Google does machine learning on it and it spits out,” Stone said.

For the 2019 Congressional App Contest, Stone created an app called, “Kidcrews” that he hopes to make into “something real,” and aims to get the app onto the App Store by the end of the school year. The app is designed to help kids and teens get neighborhood jobs by posting ads, then adults can hire them. Stone used the program React Native to create his app “Kidcrews.”  React Native is an extremely advanced programming website, used by larger corporate businesses like Facebook, entrepreneurs, and other professionals.

Stone’s programming skills reach beyond his app creations. Stone is the only freshman in the “programmer” role on the robotics team and is already a team leader. For this year’s competition, the goal is to program a robot to shoot a ball into a hole in the wall. Stone was the sole programmer of the Wilson robot’s vision feature. “Under the hole in the wall there are reflective strips and we shine a light on it and it makes it green, and then the camera looks at the green target, and tells the robot where to aim,” Stone said. 

Aside from spending 25 hours a week working in the robotics lab and additional hours coding his apps, Stone plays the guitar for Wilson’s jazz band and amateur radio, Ham Radio. Stone has his amateur radio license, and by turning his radio on different frequencies and searching for other people, he can communicate with other people around the world. “I talk to Indonesia… we talk about the equipment we have,” Stone said, adding that he also talked to people in Latin America.

Stone has many interests, app creation is just his main focus. He hopes to continue what is now a hobby into his full-time career. “I want to create my own business.”