Squashing Bugs

updated 05/01/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/1995 01:00AM

PARENTS LOVE TO BOAST THAT THEIR kids know more about computers than they do, but for Robert and Robin Baratz of Newton, Mass., that would be a bit of an understatement. Their son Adam has been working for Borland International, a leading softwaremaker, since last August as one of its more than 3,000 "beta" testers—unpaid computer users, who, often working at home, put prototype programs through their paces to uncover glitches. So capable is Adam that not until the Boston Globe profiled him last February did his immediate supervisers at Borland learn an essential fact about him: He is 9 years old.

The fourth-grader, who may be the youngest beta tester in the country, also works for Microsoft, Brøderbund and other software leaders. "He's a terrific kid," says Borland chairman Philippe Kahn, who met Baratz at a computer users' convention in Boston last June. "He came up to me, very self-assured. I said, 'We'll put you to work.' " Kahn briefed the testing department's manager about Adam's age, but apparently the manager didn't pass it on. Meantime, Baratz was happily conducting his glitch hunts—a calendar program that froze when multiple daily appointments were scheduled, a drawing program that produced pictures pitted with tiny holes. "I'm like a detective investigating a murder," he says. "A bad bug can be murder on your computer."

The son of a physician and an artist, Baratz, who has a 12-year-old sister, started playing with Dad's home computer when he was 2 and was soon uncovering bugs in educational programs. Last year he had Adam's Beta Testers business cards printed—a brainstorm of his father's as a way to cut down on his software expenditures—and began contacting software companies. Introducing himself "as one president to another" to Microsoft chief Bill Gates, he wrote, "Don't let my age fool you. I found my first bug when I was 5."

Baratz can spend three months ferreting out problems. How many hours a day he works on his 486 PC clone is a matter of friendly dispute. He claims it's only an hour—2, tops. And he has other interests: sports, Cub Scouts, composing on the piano. His mother says he spends whole evenings at the computer. "Okay," he admits. "But not before I do my homework."

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