Can young kids learn programming and make games? Andy Bruce is only 10 years old and has already developed and published a very creative app on both Apple store and Google Play store. His game is quickly gaining popularity on both app stores. His mother is Emmy Chen, founder and developer of AbiTalk, and the family resides in Silicon Valley. We recently invited Emmy for an interview to find out how this little boy became a programmer!
[Cocos]: Can you introduce yourself first?
[Emmy]: First of all, I’d like to thank the Cocos team for giving me the opportunity to be here. I came to the U.S. in the early 90’s to pursue my master’s degree. After I got my master’s degree in computer science, I started my career and entrepreneurial adventure in Silicon Valley, California. Prior to founding AbiTalk, I worked in the internet/network security field, which involved a lot of algorithm and encryption/description, PKI/SSL, and so on. I started AbiTalk in 2011. AbiTalk mainly focuses on the mobile education market. Our apps cover subjects like phonics, math, reading, science, language arts, social studies, vocabulary and much more.
(Emmy with daughter and son)
[Cocos]: A lot of 10 year-old kids play games, but not many make them. Please tell us how Andy started learning Cocos game development?
[Emmy]: My husband and I are both software engineers. We both have some influence on him. He has loved computers since he was a little boy. He loves computers and Lego robots. When the iPhone/iPad first came onto the market, he was so addicted to them. He played with the iPad a lot – he loved all the games. Very soon, he had ideas about new games, and he wanted to make his own.
[Cocos]: Why did you choose Cocos2d-JS as the starter kit?
[Cocos]: Being Andy’s first game – it’s amazing. It’s hard to believe it was made by a 10 year-old boy. Would you please tell us more about how he made the game?
[Emmy]: It is my pleasure. Andy has liked to play games since he was a little boy and has played many of the famous games. When he wanted to make a spaceship game I suggested that he make an educational game. He thought about it and decided to make a math game because he likes math. Then he developed this app that combines both. The name of the game is “Jet Fighter Math Game”. The game is designed for kids between the ages of 6 and 8. Kids control the jet, in order to shoot the rocks with the correct answers to the math questions. Children will learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
(A Screenshot of 《Jet Fighter Math Game》)
He found most of the images and music by himself. When we submitted the app to Apple for review, the app got rejected. I did not understand why at the time. Finally, I figured out that he borrowed music from a famous game. I recommended some free sound websites to him, and he found some nice background music. We submitted the app again, this time it was approved by the Apple store.
[Cocos]: How was the user feedback about the game?
[Emmy]: When I put the game on both app stores, I did not expect it to do well, considering it was his first game. He designed the whole game with different weapons and bullets, variations in speed, particles, and more. Other kids also suggested making different types of jets.
I am teaching a few kids Cocos2d-JS game programming every Sunday. Andy helps other kids during the class. He is my class assistant.
[Cocos]: How did you help Andy to become a game developer?
[Emmy]: I did not put too much effort in to teaching him. I think he saw us making apps and he wanted to make some by himself. I taught him how to type which I think is a very important skill as a programmer. If he can type fast, he will be able to code fast. Now, he can type pretty fast. Also, I found his thinking is very logical, and he learns new technologies very quickly on his own. For example, I might show him a programming concept very quickly and not expect him to fully understand it, but he will be able to use the new concept and extend it into other activities. He likes all different kinds of actions in the Cocos2d-x engine. He will use a wide assortment of actions to make several different animation effects. He is making another game now about farm animals that attack farmers. He plans to publish the new game this summer. His growth has exceeded my expectations. I have also learned a lot from him.
[Cocos]: We heard that you have been working in the IT industry for almost 20 years. You are really a great predecessor. Would you please tell us little bit about your work experience? We believe this will be a great opportunity for us to learn from you.
[Emmy]: I am very lucky that my work is what I love. My bachelor’s degree is in civil engineering. I worked as a civil engineer for few years. I did not like the civil engineering work at all. When I came to the U.S. for graduate school, I changed my major to computer science. I realized that programming is both my interest and my strength. After I graduated from graduate school in the middle of 90’s, I came to Silicon Valley in California and started my career and entrepreneurial path. By then, the internet had just become more available and brought the technological revolution into people’s lives. I got several offers from big companies like HP, Cisco, Netscape, and Microsoft. I went to a start-up company instead. Because of this experience, I realized how much opportunity start-ups offer. I have also started several different companies, some of which I worked on my own and others with partners. I found success with some of the start-ups yet a few have failed as well.
Afterwards I got married and had two kids and took a few years off. I started AbiTalk in 2011. AbiTalk became a leader in developing mobile educational apps, with over 300 apps. This year, I started to focus on speech therapy and special needs and special education apps. So far, I have published 5 speech therapy and special education apps. These apps are groundbreaking and like no others you will find on the app store. We have received a lot of positive feedback and reviews from our users. The special needs education market is still new to me, so I plan to put more effort into it.
Many people think that computer jobs are for young people. I don’t really agree with that. I think in the IT industry you can always learn new technologies regardless of your age. IT technologies change very fast, so I have to constantly learn new skills and improve myself to keep on top of everything.
[Cocos]: So as an indie app developer, you funded AbiTalk Inc., published more than 100 great education apps and became the leader in the mobile education market. Would you please tell us what made you start developing educational apps?
[Emmy]: The reason I started AbiTalk is because of Andy. As I mentioned earlier, when the iPad/iPhone first came to the market, he, like other kids, was very addicted to the mobile games. He was in kindergarten but playing games all the time. He was behind in terms of reading and vocabulary. He was struggling with phonics, sight words, vocabulary, and reading. I thought, “if I can make some fun phonics learning games on iPad/iPhone, it will help him”. I bought some workbooks and read some online tutorials about making iPad/iPhone games. Two month later, I published a couple of phonics games on the Apple store. These apps got a lot of positive feedback from many users and high rankings in the Apple store, so I continued to make more and more apps.
(Kids playing AbiTalk games)
I get a lot of feedback and input from teachers and parents. They contact me when they need something that is not available on the market and ask me to make the app for them. Then I develop the app and publish it on the app store in a few weeks. That is the reason I always have so many new ideas and projects to work on.
[Cocos]: What is your experience as an indie developer and having your own app business?
[Emmy]: As a female developer, I feel very special. I have a big advantage as a female developer over male developers. Especially in the education market, most customers are schoolteachers, mothers, and speech therapists. Most of my customers are females. This makes it easier for me to communicate with my customers and to get support and feedback from them. Many of my users became my close friends and partners.
(Some games from AbiTalk)
AbiTalk education apps are widely used by schools. Phonics apps, reading comprehension apps, our sentence builder app, and others are the first choices of teachers and parents. I have a couple of people who help me with marketing and sales. I have a person who works on the release engineering, and one system admin at the back-end. I also hire some contractors to make content for me. I am the only one working on the design and development. AbiTalk apps are all profitable.
(Screenshots of Sentence Builder Series Games)
Cocos]: Many AbiTalk apps are developed using the Cocos engine. Why did you choose Cocos over other game engines?
[Emmy]: Some of the AbiTalk apps are built using native languages from Objective C and Java. Some of them are built using Cocos2d-x and Cocos2d-JS. If an app requires a lot of native platform features like video/audio recording, I will use native code. Most of my latest apps are built by Cocos2d-JS. I chose the Cocos engine for the cross platform design and easy simple API. The feature I like the most is the Assets Manager. If there are few minor bugs, I can fix them on the server side with no need to submit the new updates. It has saved my life several times. smile 表情符
[Cocos]: How do you think we can improve the Cocos engine?
[Cocos]: Thanks for your support. We already support WebView in v3.3. New audio engine supports to call back after the audio too. You are welcome to try these new features out. We will add the video/audio recording feature in a future release.
[Emmy]: Great. I will definitely try these new features.
[Cocos]: Thanks we look forward to your support and suggestions. During the development, did you get support from Cocos?
[Emmy]: I got a lot of support from the Cocos team. They are always very supportive and help me solve development issues. So I can say, without the Cocos team, I could not have developed so many apps. They are very professional. I always recommend the Cocos engine to other developers.
[Cocos]: Thanks for your support. You are the expert on education market. What are your suggestions to beginners about learning Cocos engine?
[Emmy]: I really like the Cocos game engine. The API is very simple and clean. The API is also easy to understand and use. Cocos provides the best cross platform engine. The Cocos console is very useful, and it makes the cross platform development very simple and straightforward. I think for beginners, Cocos is the best engine to start with. It is very easy to use, and the samples are very clean to follow.
[Cocos]: As an outstanding developer, you are also a great mom. Can you tell us little bit more about how you balance your time and effort between these two roles?
[Emmy]: To be honest, I focus on my apps and business most of the time. I do not spend too much time with my kids, but I want them to be independent in both life and studying. They are very independent. I think as parents, we provide them a good environment for them to grow. We must really rely on their own efforts when it comes to success. I taught my son how to program and how to make games. I was spending quality time with him, while he was learning something from me.
I teach a few kids game programming and Cocos2d-JS every weekend where they make some fun little games. During the holidays or school breaks, I spent a lot of time with my kids traveling. They have been to many different countries and learned the local history and culture of each one.
[Cocos]: Is there anything else you’d like to say to everyone?
[Emmy]: Thanks Cocos, for the opportunity to be here. I also appreciate the help and support from the Cocos team. I hope Cocos will have a very successful future. The majority of my apps are selling in North American, Australian, and European market. I hope to service the Chinese and Asian markets too.
Lastly, I hope more children will learn the Cocos engine and become successful game programmers in the future.
[Cocos]: Thank you so much, Emmy. I hope you have a successful business and happy family.