When Mike Swanson stares at code on a computer screen it’s more than numbers and symbols — it’s a thing of beauty.
“It’s very geeky, but for me it’s the ultimate experience,” said the 43-year-old Sammamish resident. “It might be like somebody writing a piece of music or creating a painting or something. For me, it’s the same thing.”
A former evangelist for Microsoft, Swanson’s job required testing competitors’ technology.
It was there, while tinkering with iOS programs — the type used on Apple’s iPhones and iPads — an idea was born. Swanson — who taught himself computer coding in the fourth grade, started a software company in high school and skipped college to open a successful consulting business — caught the entrepreneurial bug again.
“I’m a software developer at heart,” he said. “This kind of played into it, I got to build my own things.”
Experimenting in his free time, Swanson developed his first application, 3D Camera — a program that turns normal photographs into three-dimensional images.
“I got to a point where I was having enough fun doing it and it seemed like something that could sustain me,” said Swanson, who opted to step away from Microsoft after more than 11 years.
Now, almost a year since moving into his home office, Swanson has seven different apps under his belt. Two in particular have garnered significant worldwide exposure.
Halftone, which was released in February 2011, has been downloaded 1,756,266 times and was most recently featured as Starbucks Pick of the Week.
The application gives images a vintage style that makes them look like they came from an old comic strip.
Swanson admits he’s amazed by the amount of attention the app still garners after 18 months on the market, noting at one point Halftone was second overall app in the United Kingdom in front of the ever popular Angry Birds. He said he’s even recently seen celebrities like Kim Kardashian sending out pictures of herself on Twitter, “Halftoned.”
“I’m not a big fan or anything, but it’s cool to see,” Swanson said, laughing.
His other popular app, Layout, is designed for the iPad and allows users to add multiple photos to one page, split frames, add multiple photos, change shapes and more. It was released at the end of June as an Apple Editors’ Choice, meaning it sat featured atop the iTunes store for a week.
Swanson said competition is rapidly growing in the application market, matching the increased amount of smartphones.
There are roughly 700,000 apps in the iTunes store and 168,000 companies, which represents individuals like Swanson or entire development teams. It also can be a lucrative endeavor as app creators take home 70 percent of the sales, with the other 30 going to Apple.
While things are going well for Swanson, he said he often detours people from following in his footsteps.
“It’s not because I’m not having a great time doing it because I am; it’s because I have been lucky,” he said.
Swanson said apps aren’t always a success, noting some of his older apps only sell one or two copies a day. But for those that have taken off, he’s well aware of just how fortunate he is.
“It’s one of those things as an independently employed guy you wake up every morning and it’s like ‘This can’t work, this can’t sustain itself, can it?’”
So far, so good for the self-described geek.
Learn more about Mike Swanson’s applications on his website, www.juicybitssoftware.com.
An example of Mike Swanson’s Halftone app. The photo program has been downloaded 1,756,266 times since launching in February 2011