Lua-based programming language helps kids create computer software

At the age of 12, Alex Foyt is already a veteran of creating online games, boasting 98 titles in six years, including a survival challenge that involves dodging carrots and chickens falling from the sky.

The secret to Foyt’s game-making prowess: He learned coding with a programming language called Lua, which relies on easy-to-understand syntax, before he went on to master more advanced software-development tools.

“I really want to be a computer programmer and build my own codes for a living,” said Foyt, a resident of Albany, N.Y., who recently trekked to Santa Clara for a conference sponsored by gaming site Roblox Corp.

Lua is one of a handful of languages that are helping kids try their hand at software programming amid a boom in online games and applications for devices such as the iPhone. The user-friendly tools are being popularized by sites like Roblox, a platform that lets users create and play games with interactive animations from zombies to medieval fortresses. They could be instrumental in helping fill what companies like Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. say is a shortfall in U.S. engineering talent.

“The big thing that is slowing the tech sector down is a lack of labor,” said Steve Cooper, who teaches computer science at Stanford University. “If you go to a college job fair, employers will call out and say, ‘Come over here if you’re a computer scientist.’ ”

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