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Article update: Coriolis Group went out of business while we were writing the book mentioned in this article. We then revamped the incomplete manuscript into a new book for another publisher (Apress), which is now available as: Programming the Web with Visual Basic .NET.

Programming Whiz Kid Pitches In On Family Project

14-Year-Old Writes Code Samples For .NET Book

Zac Torkelson can write a terrific essay about what he did on his summer vacation—writing code samples for a book about .NET.

14-year-old Zac Torkelson speaks Visual Basic as a second language, and now he's fallen in love with C#. He says, "I love it because it's a cross between VB and C++. It has the power of C++, the same syntax, and it's easy to use. It's a good language."

The 14-year-old's co-authors on the project, titled Visual Basic .NET Internet Black Book, are his parents, Constance Petersen and Lynn Torkelson. The Coriolis Group will publish the book, billed as a comprehensive guide to building Web-enabled applications and services using Visual Basic .NET, to coincide with the release of Visual Studio .NET.

Photo: Lynn Torkelson, Constance Petersen, and Zac Torkelson.The young Torkelson works from one of eight computers in the Hancock, Mich., home he shares with his two older brothers and his parents, co-founders of a software- and Web-design consultancy, SoftMedia Artisans, Inc.

Zac's father, Lynn, the book's lead author, has been working with Visual Basic since version 3.0, and has extensive experience using it to develop client-server business applications. Writing a book is nothing new for his mother, who also began working with Visual Basic in version 3.0 and co-authored the book offsite link.Visual Basic 4 How To.

Having Zac pitch in with code samples was a natural, said his mother, who added he speaks Visual Basic (VB) "as a second language" and counts among his favorite activities optimizing code and finding creative uses for the Windows application programming interface.

Zac and his parents came to the attention of Microsoft through Connie Sullivan, .NET Developers Support Group program manager, who knew Petersen when Sullivan was a user-group specialist in Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program.

"He's a wiz of a programmer," Petersen said of her son. "The toughest part about having him help with the book is keeping him interested in Internet programming. He's always finding more challenging stuff that draws his interest."

Zac started programming when he was 10 by searching the Microsoft Developer Network's online documentation library and reading offsite link.Visual Basic Programmer's Guide.

"It was interesting to watch Zac learn to program," Petersen said. "When he had questions, most often we pointed him to MSDN or a book. He's really quite a natural. He'll just figure it out."

Though his current book project involves his first programming love, Visual Basic, he's recently become enamored of C# (pronounced C-sharp). "He fell in love with it," Petersen said.

And what about C# does he find so fascinating?

"I love it because it's a cross between VB and C++. It has the power of C++, the same syntax, and it's easy to use. It's a good language."

Don't think Zac is all work and no play. He takes great pleasure in programming artificial intelligence players to play Tetranet against human players. "My computer players go online against other human players, and use team work to defeat them," Zac said. Then there's the client he's working on for "Ultima Online", an MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game).

And just so you don't think this kid never steps out from behind his computer monitor, rest assured that he has been spending plenty of time this summer outside his home, which sits on the shore of Portage Lake on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

For Petersen, authoring a book is like giving birth: a painful process, but enormously rewarding when it's over.

For Zac, seeing his code in a printed volume will be exciting. "I enjoy programming, so I thought programming in a book would be pretty nifty,” he said. “It's interesting to know other people will see it too. I created it and other people use it. It helps them. It's fun."

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