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Software programmer Philip Bernstein dies at 24

Software programmer Philip Bernstein, 24, of Long Island

Software programmer Philip Bernstein, 24, of Long Island City, Queens, died Wednesday of undetermined causes. Credit: Adam Bernstein

At 9, Philip Bernstein was already an entrepreneur.

He tried to get the other fourth-graders at his Port Washington school to put their lunch money into a lottery.

And he tried to charge kids to play on a makeshift swing he made by hanging jump ropes from the jungle gym, recalled Michael Krellenstein, his friend and fellow entrepreneur in those days.

Their schemes failed miserably, but Bernstein would go on to make big money only a few years later. At 15, Bernstein got bit by the computer bug. He taught himself software programming and was selling mobile apps online, said his father, Adam Bernstein. 

Philip Bernstein died Wednesday at the age of 24 of an undetermined cause, his father said. He lived in Long Island City, Queens, with his longtime girlfriend, Michela Petruzziello.

"He was at the top of his life," Adam Bernstein said. "He was with a very promising New York City startup on the cusp of doing great things."

Bernstein was born to Adam and Jane Bernstein in Mineola in 1995, the first of four children.

When he was transforming himself into a teenage app developer, Bernstein spent much of that summer in his room with a laptop and textbooks. 

Then, after hours of study, Bernstein called in his dad to show off what he had learned. Adam Bernstein recalled the look on his son's face — that look-what-I-can-do look. 

Bernstein had programmed his cellphone to beep from his computer. The next day, he set an alarm on the phone, Adam Bernstein said.

"It was slow at first," Adam Bernstein said of his son's self-education. "Then, he took off like a rocket ship." 

Within months, Bernstein was making as much as $1,000 a month from his app sales, his father said.

At 19, he applied for a job as an app programmer. The company's chief executive told him that he was too young and inexperienced.

"You're wrong," Bernstein told the CEO, according to his father. "Give me something you would have me code and in 24 hours I'll have it back to you."

The CEO took the challenge. Bernstein came through. 

"When can you start?" the CEO asked.

At the time of his death, Bernstein was lead software engineer for Manhattan-based HiThrive, which lets customers post compliments about workers. 

Bernstein also loved playing pranks using technology, his father said. In high school, he installed a program on a teacher's computer that made the CD drive randomly open and close. When the frustrated teacher couldn't figure out what was going on, Bernstein stepped forward and fixed it.

Besides his parents, Bernstein is survived by sisters Jennifer and Rachel, both of Port Washington; a brother, Jacob, of Port Washington; and grandmothers Susan Bernstein of Oceanside and Mary Jane Sexton of Syracuse.

The funeral will be 9:30 a.m. Monday at Port Jewish Center in Port Washington. The family will sit shiva Monday through Wednesday at their home.

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