After giving an influential speech at last year’s Teens in Tech conference, Daniel Trinh -- once a 17-year-old design at Digg, now a 19-year-old freshman at the University of North Carolina -- was invited back to this year’s event in San Francisco to build upon his ideas. In Saturday's speech, Trinh explained what it was like to be what he called a TAinT – a teenager in tech. He detailed how he was able to work for one of the most influential Web 2.0 companies, Digg, and what he learned during his time as a 17-year-old intern whose peers were all in their mid-20s and up. Trinh's story starts with relationships. Trinh was able to leverage a meeting with Daniel Burka, former creative director at Digg, into an internship at the social news site. Trinh said such relationships with mentors are crucial to teens trying to break into the tech industry.

“I can’t imagine how hard it would be as a teen to break into the industry without someone to teach you,” Trinh said. “The easiest way to do it is to ask a good question. Find an expert and reach out to them. The litmus test for a mentor: is this person like what I’d like to be someday.”

Trinh said the learning curve for a teen working for a tech company is harsh and that a lot of adults find it difficult to accept a teen as a peer. But ultimately, age shouldn’t a factor in building a tech career.

“Tech is very much a meritocracy,” Trinh said. “Age isn’t a crutch. Nothing can hurt you more when trying to deal with your peers is trying to play the age card.”

“Age is not your biggest asset,” Trinh said. “Your skills are. I think the key to being a teen in tech is humble pie.”

Trinh, a native of North Carolina, also highlighted some of the cultural differences that many immigrating to Silicon Valley have surely felt.

“San Francisco has this weird culture to it,” Trinh said. “How many Twitter followers equals how great a person you are.”

The Twitterocracy is far cry from his hometown. “In Raleigh, if you tell people you’re a web designer, they say, ‘sweet, can you fix my printer?’”

Trinh learned another valuable lesson during time in San Francisco.

“Kevin Rose taught me that guys can wear skinny jeans,” Trinh said.

By Mark Alvarez