Tech turks take flight - Lim Ding Wen

Boy Wonder grows up

Lim Ding Wen, who wants to become a professional game developer, with a game he is now designing.
Lim Ding Wen, who wants to become a professional game developer, with a game he is now designing. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Lim Ding Wen was just nine when he single-handedly placed Singapore on the map of cool.

It happened eight years ago when he was named the world's youngest developer of an iPhone app. He had created Doodle Kids, which lets a user draw shapes on his smartphone and clear them by shaking it.

Now 17, the tall, gangly youth, who is in his first year of an infocomm technology course at Singapore Polytechnic, is still fixated on a career in programming and, in particular, game development.

"I know I still have a lot to learn before I can become a professional developer," said the teen who, by Primary 2, knew six different programming languages.

In 2011, he was named Singapore's "icon of cool" by travel website CNNgo for being the world's youngest programmer. It led to Singapore being voted by the website as the world's second-coolest nation due to its high level of computer literacyand tech-savviness.

His app, which is still free at the Apple App Store, was downloaded more than 4,000 times in two weeks. iPhones were rather new to the market then.

Ding Wen has since developed more than 20 different apps for smartphones, including games and other drawing-related apps.

But he has not made a cent from them as he uploads them for free so that more people can download them. "I'm not in it for the money. For now, I just want to try new techniques and produce apps for fun."

He has moved from the old-school Apple IIGS computer he used for his first few apps to coding his games and programs on a shiny new MacBook Pro, focusing more on computer and Web-based projects.

"Recently, the market for mobile phone apps has become saturated and it's got quite hard to develop for (mobile gadgets)," he said.

His current projects include SpaceCubes, a clone of popular block-based video game Minecraft. He is developing it as an educational game to help users learn about designing stages in video games.

He has also branched out from app and Web development to learning new programming languages and even experimenting with electronics kits such as Arduino, a small programmable circuit chip.

While he knows he has years to go before graduation, followed by national service, Ding Wen has his heart set on becoming a professional game developer. "I want to create worlds that come alive in games and become engaging experiences for players," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline Boy Wonder grows up. Subscribe