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Getting With the Program : At 12, Jay Liebowitz runs his own software firm in between homework, sports and music.

November 18, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times.

NORTHRIDGE — It makes sense, starting your own software company in an effort to put your programming skills to good use. But at 12?

Jay Liebowitz, an eighth-grader at Chaminade Intermediate School in Chatsworth, says he is making almost $2,000 a month by uploading his homemade software to CompuServe, an on-line computer service that helps sell software through several forums. Not only does he like the spending money and the joy of running a small business, he hopes to use his earnings to pay for college.

One program, WinDOS, which goes for $35, is a file manager package designed to help children and others learn to use a computer. Another, BatchEdit, helps users better organize their files.

Jay started teaching himself to program about two years ago, after he felt bored with computer games and eager to learn how the software actually works. He started using Microsoft's Visual Basic program, and he designed a simple tool--called Grader--to help kids keep track of their day-to-day school grades. He put that program on the market through CompuServe but it didn't sell.

If he could make a simple program, Jay says, he figured he could spend more time on the programming and do something far better. He wrote BatchEdit just a few weeks after finishing Grader.

"It's not hard. You program and upload and pray to God that people will buy it," he says. Now he says he is getting about 25 buyers a week, which will add up to roughly $24,000 a year if the pace continues. "It's pretty good for a kid, but it's not going to be my living, I hope," he says.

As for expenses, Jay says he has not started to keep track of them, but knows his business costs him very little. So far, he hasn't invested in marketing or advertising, and he sells solely through the on-line forums.

*

While on-line experts consider Jay's software selling to be unusual, some predict it will not be so rare in the near future. "It's probably a sign of the times that more and more of these kids are uploading because they are becoming computer-literate so much younger," said Debra Young, a CompuServe spokeswoman.

Jay, an only child who lives in Northridge, does most of his programming on the weekends because his first priority is homework. When not studying or going on-line, he plays tennis and golf, and enjoys practicing piano and flute.

For a career, Jay isn't setting his sights on being the next Bill Gates, the billionaire chairman of Microsoft. Instead, he wants to become a surgeon. "I'm not sure what kind of surgeon, but I know it won't be an eye surgeon; enucleations make me puke. I once saw one on The Learning Channel," he says.

He is also interested in finding a publisher for a book he just finished--"Views of a 12-Year-Old." Don't expect to find ratings of theme parks or impressions of Little League in this tome. Jay discusses the underlying issues of society, including morality, responsibility, religion and education.

"In this society, the reason people kill is not because they're poor, it's because they have a lack of ethics," Jay says. On religion: "It's necessary because it gives you values. God is someone to answer to," he says.

Jay says he has several good friends, all of whom are scarcely aware of his programming and business acumen. "I don't bring that into my school life," he says. But he does admit that interests such as his can make connecting with other kids his age a bit challenging.

"Kids badger you sometimes. It's common for smart kids to be called nerds. But I have the cushion of all the people who love me and care about it, and I don't associate myself with those kind of people," he says.

Running a business, crafting programs, writing a book--does it make Jay feel grown up? "No. I have an income--yes--but it's just a side job. I'm still a kid," he says. "But it's nice; if I want to buy a camera, for example, I take $400 out and buy it."

WHERE TO GO

What: To reach Jay Liebowitz on-line:

CompuServe: 72733,1601

America Online:

Dr Jay L 32

Internet:

jay@cyberspace.net

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