It seems quite a feat that by the age of 14 Ahmed Ehab Mohamed Abou el Nasr had taught himself to design websites and create computer software programs.
But the grade-nine student from Dubai, who is now 15, was not impressed. "I still did not know how to make money using my knowledge," he says.
"This was really frustrating and disappointing. People preferred to employ someone who is older than me, regardless of [their] ability."
Yet things started to change when Ahmed stumbled upon Freelancer.com, one of a growing group of websites that link micro-entrepreneurs to a variety of freelance opportunities that can often be snapped up from the comfort of a couch.
This corner of the web has heated up in recent years, as more workers look to supplement lost income due to reduced hours or layoffs, while others seek to generate enough cash to spin off their own small business.
Sites with a presence in the Middle East, in particular, have grown at a rapid clip: Guru.comlists more than 700 freelancers available for hire in the UAE, while Elance.com says the number of providers in the country has more than doubled during the past year.
At Freelancer.com, which was launched in 2004, almost 8,000 users hail from the UAE, up 249 per cent from the same time a year ago. A similar site called Arablance.com, which was previewed during DemoCamp in Dubai last November, was developed by Mohamed Hassan, an entrepreneur based in Dubai. The site was launched last year.
Like many others in the Emirates, Ahmed got started by creating an online profile to highlight his areas of expertise. Then he began bidding on projects posted by employers, telling them why he deserved to be hired.
Over the past year, he has been commissioned by companies in Egypt, India, the UK and US. And after Freelancer.com took its cut of his earnings, which varies from 3 per cent to 10 per cent, the budding entrepreneur pocketed about US$1,000 (Dh3,673) - enough to cover the cost of his school uniform and lesson books.
There is also the lure of a bigger pay-off. "The experience will help me get an advantage over other students when applying to college," he says.
As with the payments freelancers earn from these sites, which range from a few dollars for a quick task to hundreds, or sometimes, thousands of dollars for longer-term projects, job requests also vary widely.
The most popular postings in the region focus on computer programming work, although employers in other parts of the world have recently looked for songwriters, poster designers for a project in the Congo, and someone who could create a smartphone app with a treasure map leading to a marriage proposal.
Savvy individuals who have lacked the capital to launch their dream ventures can take advantage of these sites and build up a business from scratch, experts say.
"We have one guy with 100 employees working in three design centres," says Matt Barrie, the chief executive of Freelancer.com. "He's making $1 million a year building $65 websites."
The key to incubating a successful enterprise via sites such as Freelancer.com lies, in part, with a feature that allows an employer to rate the quality of work submitted by a freelancer. This helps make or break a micro-entrepreneur's online reputation.
"As a reputation goes up, [a freelancer] gets picked more often," says Mr Barrie. "They can take advantage of that and start building up their small business."
But such sites are not exclusively for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
"It's also a good idea for people who want to work more, because perhaps they don't get the chance to do that kind of work in their company," says Sharad Barkataki, the chairman and assistant professor of management at the school of business at American University in Dubai.
For Renu Sujith Shenoy, 26, working as a micro-entrepreneur from home provides a newfound flexibility that allows her to take care of her eight-month-old daughter.
Once she puts her baby down for a sleep at about 7.30am, and her husband departs for work, she logs on to her computer and churns out articles that might focus on art one day, yoga or health another day, and education on another.
The young mum from Dubai, who left her job as an assistant manager to have her baby, says she is using this time to keep her CV up to date with new work experiences, and to keep herself mentally stimulated.
"I've seen many housewives who sit idle at home," she says. "After a few years, they feel frustrated [that their] career was gone. I never wanted that happen to me. I thought I shouldn't have a break in my career," she adds.