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June 15, 1999
Straight A's At School. And Earning $50,000 A Year
A P Kamath in Raleigh
Anand Shimpi loves to tell stories about how people used to be surprised by him. A representative of a computer hardware company called MTech in California was making business calls in Raleigh when he realized that Anand Shimpi lived here.
The salesman was eager to meet Shimpi whose Web page reviewing the latest computer hardware had impressed him. There was only one Shimpi in the phone book -- and the salesman drove to the house and knocked on the door.
A lanky, dark-haired 15-year-old boy opened the door and the salesman asked if Anand was home. "He almost fell over when I said, 'I'm Anand'," says Shimpi.
Two years later, people do know he is a teenager -- there have been many articles about him in major American newspapers including USA Today. If you go to his web page at www.anandtech.com, you will find a number of pictures of not only Shimpi but his classmates, his teachers and his girlfriend Amy.
"I don't want my web page to be just a technical page," he says. "People relate to you better when they know a little bit about you." Most important, he does not want people to think he is a stereotyped Asian student nerd, glued to the textbook, and not having time for the new Star Wars movie.
"I hate when people put a mask on you, and think that all computer people look and think in a particular way."
His web page draws more than 30,000 visitors daily, and is ranked by Webside Story as the No 1 computer page. And 16-year-old Anand makes about $ 50,000 a year, far more than the average salary of an American college professor.
Companies not only send him products to review and dozens of hard-core techies e-mail him each day. They also run ads on the site.
One of his big responsibilities is to keep his visitors up to date on the latest gadgets.
"It's not right to let people go for several days without an update," he says. "It's important that they have all the latest information." On some weekends, he works through the night well into the late hours of the morning.
This is typical of a message Shimpi has for his visitors:
"Due to popular demand," reads a note on the web site from Shimpi to his tech-savvy audience, "I placed an order for a Matrox Millennium II AGP (4MB) card to benchmark against the PCI Millennium II I have here currently. I will receive it on Wednesday and I will try to have a review by Friday."
A visitor to Shimpi's testing lab will find it is a tiny room in his parents' house. In one corner is the computer he uses to update his web site. Near the door sits the computer where he runs his tests. Scattered around the room are computers, their insides gutted and their wires spilling across the floor like strands of angle-haired spaghetti. The rest of the room is dotted with the trappings of the high-tech savvy teen: a big-screen television, the Star Wars trilogy on videotape and Quake II, the popular computer game, on the shelf.
Shimpi spends three to four hours a day swapping out various computer components such as microprocessors and memory chips. He then loads them onto motherboards to run a series of software programs to measure their speed and reliability.
"Many people have made their computers run better following my web page," he says.
"It's much like a car," Shimpi says with a chuckle. "You can tweak it to get the performance you want the same way you can with a car. Of course, it's a bit more technical than a car."
The son of a Maharashtrian computer science professor and an Iranian mother, formerly a teacher, Shimpi began taking apart PCs when he was hardly seven. The family lived in New Hampshire then.
His father Lal Shimpi, a head of the computer science department at St Augustine's College, says though Anand also showed great interest in other subjects, including medicine, from his very young age, nothing fascinated him as much as computers.
Anand Shimpi naturally credits his parents for his success.
"I was born to two wonderful and loving parents, who instilled in me all the values and morals that I carry with me to this date," Anand Shimpi says.
"When I was in the 3rd grade, my father, a computer science professor at a college in Keene, New Hampshire, decided to introduce me to his choice of profession by enrolling me in one of his College Level Computer Science classes, CS101 -- Introduction to Computers.
"Although I was a tad bit young at the time, I enjoyed the class, scoring very highly I decided that I liked the world of computers. However, back then it was mostly games and DOS for me, I never really got into hardware until we moved down to Raleigh."
It was not easy for the family to indulge Anand.
"It was an expensive hobby but we knew he was passionate about what he wanted to do," says his mother. By nine, he was helping his father's students build computers. By 11, he was indeed building computers for them.
Two years ago, he started to upgrade his computer and began trading notes with his Internet buddies. But there was a delay in getting the right chips.
"I then decided to put together my thoughts about computer hardware on a web page," he continues.
He got the idea for the page from reading several other hardware review sites, especially Tom's Hardware Guide (www.tomshardware.com). He started with a single review in April last year and things began to roll.
The site's traffic became so heavy that he had to rent a separate computer at $ 300 each month to host his Web page. From the 36 people who read the first review, the site drew 85,000 visitors within a month, and the numbers kept steadily increasing.
Within five days he had started the web page, an executive at Megatrends Technologies sent an e-mail to ask about the advertising rate. "I said I will not charge anything for his advertisement," Shimpi says. "I was even surprised that anyone was going to advertise on my web page."
Instead, he asked the company to send him products to review. Even then, within a few months he was getting "besieged" by advertisers who would pay $ 50 to $ 1,000 per month, depending on the position of the ads. The rates have gone up significantly since then.
Some of the early advertisers like Jon Lisbon, business development manager for Seattle-based TechWave, say they didn't even know Shimpi's age until he started posting personal information.
"I didn't fall off my chair, but that does surprise me," Lisbon said last year. "I didn't realize he was that young. But that does surprise me because it's a very professional site."
By any account, Anand Shimpi is one of the most successful teenagers in America. But he is also aware that he should plan for a college degree. Being a straight-A student, and given the success of his enterprise, getting into a top school should not pose him a problem. But he does not want to go to any great school. He wants to attend MIT and -- like his father -- get a doctorate. Then he wants to work in a research lab for a computer company. Or start his own business.
His parents make sure that despite the early acclaim and high visibility, their son grows up like any normal kid.
"We always make sure he does his homework on time," says his father.
Anand Shimpi understands his parents' concern. But he is a little surprised that they should remind him of his responsibilities.
"I have always pushed myself," he says. "If you don't keep on pushing yourself to go higher, you'll never achieve anything."
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