Inspiring Kids to Code with Dean Taylor

Lindsay Schardon (Zenva)

February 20, 2020 in Success Stories

Inspiring Children to Program with Dean Taylor

Hello and welcome to another Learner Success Story. Today we have Dean Taylor with us, an experienced developer who is pursuing game development – not only to become more efficient at programming, but to help inspire his children!

Thank you for joining us, Dean! To get started, can you tell us a bit about your career in general and how you got into programming?

Sure, I can do that. I have always been programming on some level even since I was little.

My first computer was a Commodore Vic-20, and I remember getting Byte and Compute magazine. In college, I took C and Pascal (on a Vax!), but it wasn’t until I got a copy of Visual Basic 3.0 that I really got into gaming. I co-wrote a few games in the early 90s with a friend, and we posted them on the BBS’s at the time (AOL, Compuserve, etc). After college, I took a job doing statistical programming since I graduated with a degree in mathematics. But, shortly thereafter, the internet boom was on, and I have been a full-stack web developer ever since.

You’ve definitely been programming for a long time, so can you tell us about some of the past projects you’ve worked on, both games and non-games alike?

Well, currently I build enterprise-level websites that are content managed through Adobe Experience Manager. I won’t list clients or jobs here, but I have worked on numerous large sites with various other content management systems. A lot of Java, but also some C# for the backend, and various frameworks on the front (Vue, Angular, etc). So, a lot of non-game stuff over the last 10-15 years.

In the past, I wrote several puzzler games, the beginning of an RPG, and a nice darts game.

Island Escape screenshot by Dean Taylor

As a parent, you’ve been trying to use game development as a way to get your children interested in programming. What inspired this choice?

Well, my children see me coding all the time (as I work from home), but I am not sure they understand what I am doing most of the time.

All three of them have computers now, and they actively play games (Minecraft, Roblox, etc). They have watched me mod the games and set up servers. And they have started YouTube channels (all the kids love YouTube) and have recorded themselves playing.

So, I thought it would be great to get them thinking about building and creating games versus just playing games (and worse, watching other people playing games on YouTube).

That being said, I really wanted to get back into creating something myself as well.

What have you accomplished in terms of that goal so far?

In terms of what I have accomplished in this goal? I would say it has been a good first step.

I have set up a website using AWS and have authored 3 games so far. The first was an adventure game, and I think the process of making that first one was the longest. I had to learn something completely new, and the kids really got to watch me plan out the project with pen and paper – drawing maps and next steps, etc. So, I think they learned a lot about the planning phase, and then all the real work that goes into creating something like this from scratch.

The next 2 games were primarily designed for the kids and were much simpler puzzle games. The last one was actually at their request and used their ideas.

We’re so excited to see the proactive stance you’ve taken with educating your kids. We’re also excited that the courses at Zenva have helped you in improving your game development skills. Can you tell us what drew you to the courses at Zenva?

Well, the last 2 games I made were with Phaser 3. And that was completely new to me.

So, I was constantly looking for code examples and documentation. During these searches, I ran across the Zenva courses, and saw that they seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

After joining and taking a few courses, I really enjoyed it and fully dived into as many courses as I could find time for.

Snakes vs. Squirrels screenshot

With the newfound game development skills you’ve been gaining, what sorts of game projects will you be creating in the future?

Well, I have learned a lot, and the initial skillset I wanted to obtain was Phaser 3, but along the way I have learned a LOT about Node.js, Express, MongoDB, and I have already implemented Node/Express/MongoDB on my server, and I have outlined a rough draft of an MMORPG that I want to start on.

I have realized as well a lot of areas my old code could use improvements or updates. So, professionally, it will eat at me if I don’t go back and do it right.

Lastly, I started on the Unity courses, and I literally cannot wait to build something in Unity. My kids will be really impressed with that, and they know what Unity is because some of their games are made with it.

So, I guess I will have several projects going at once. Which is a good thing. I’d really like to just keep getting better and better, and adding more to the library – hopefully with help from the kids.

It looks like we are out of time, but we can squeeze in one more question. Do you have any advice for game developers out there or for parents looking to get their kids into programming?

Well, as with almost anything, if you don’t enjoy it, you aren’t going to want to do it. So, for me personally, I really like coding (or I wouldn’t still do it for a job). And if you find you have to learn something new, the best way to do that is to find some way to make it fun or desirable. It could be math, it could be reading, it could be coding – but you need to model the problem so it suits what interests you, as then finding solutions becomes fun. I think the feeling of accomplishment and pride for completing a game will keep the kids coming back for more.

This concludes our interview today!  We want to thank Dean for interviewing with us, sharing his story, and helping a new generation of programmers to rise up!

Be sure to check out Dean’s games available on his website.

You can also learn more about Dean’s development experience by viewing his LinkedIn profile.

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