Looking back at my childhood career as an app developer

Or how I ended up in product design

Federico Cella
6 min readAug 14, 2023

I started learning about programming when I was 11, reading a guide about the C programming language that my brother had left behind. I remember picking up the guide randomly and just enjoying the read. It was written in Italian, my mother tongue, and in a light, funny way so I just kept reading. Back then even writing my first “Hello World!” was extremely exciting, and when I made my first calculator run in a terminal on the family computer, it felt like I could do anything. Mind you, this was around 2010, so programs running in a terminal were not really the hottest thing out there.

After my first experiments in C, I was mindblown by the possibilities. I was super excited at the idea of making my own apps and I spent hours daydreaming about the name of my future software house (I literally had dozens of names and logo sketches). I started reading a guide about Objective-C and soon enough I was testing my creations on my iPod Touch. After what I remember as long and frustrating months of development, I begged my dad to pay for my Apple developer’s license (around 79$ at the time). Under the name of my fictitious company, Wupleceo Entertainment, I finally published my first game on 25 February 2010.

Doing some archeology I was able to find these proto-sketches of the user interface of my first game

The game was called Lucky Battles. The goal was to win stickman battles through mini-games based on sheer luck. To be totally honest it wasn’t that engaging, but I remember having a lot of fun drawing the assets, building the UI, and making it come together.


And then, when the game was out, I did something that still amazes me today for my business development skills as a 12-year-old. I somehow decided to reach out to a journalist who used to write about technology for one of Italy’s most influential newspapers, with the excuse that we both shared the same first and last name. He replied to my email saying he would have liked to interview me, so my dad and I went on a day trip to Milan so I could meet him and get interviewed.

Then the article came out, and boom. I was suddenly flooded by radios, TV channels, and newspapers from all over Italy asking me for interviews. I mostly blew them off because it felt like a lot of pressure and exposure for a shy kid like me at the time. They asked me to go to conferences, which I did: I went to get interviewed at a conference in Florence and made a fool out of myself, but it was fun. They even contacted me for freelance mini-jobs, like developing an app or a game, which I accepted but it didn’t go that well. In the end, I was still a kid and I liked making games for fun, and suddenly having to deliver and meet expectations wasn’t that fun.

After this mediatic wave faded, I returned to what I liked doing and started working on my second game. For this one, I experimented with the accelerometer, but I remember the game being kind of uninspiring. You had to move a ball across the screen with the accelerometer and avoid the obstacles coming from above. Simple and yet super buggy. The game even had a GameCenter leaderboard, which you could easily top by exploiting the many bugs of the game. Sometimes just laying your phone on a table was enough to get you through the obstacles indefinitely.

However, thanks to the ad banner at the bottom of the screen I was able to earn a mind-boggling 30 euros, the first ever money I made online. That was undoubtedly a motivation, especially knowing how bad of a game this was.

The only screen of Vertical Roll I could find

It was at this point that my 4 years older brother and I joined forces and came up with a game together. My brother had been getting into graphic design and this time we had it all: graphics, a soundtrack, sound FX, in-app purchases, a story mode, an arcade mode, and even a trailer. We only missed the most fundamental element: the fun. The game wasn’t.

Space Laser’s trailer

It was frustrating to see that months of effort only earned us another 30 euros (what’s with that number anyway?), while this looked like such a big jump in quality to me. However, the Space Lasers experience taught me that it’s actually the simplest mechanics that leave a lasting memory in the user’s mind. Instead of spending time trying to build something around the game, like upgrades, power-ups, and such, I should have just focused on polishing the core mechanic and made sure it was actually fun. Doing one thing well is better than doing a lot of things mediocrely.

After this somewhat disappointing experience, I published two more games on my own. During high school I started getting into graphic design myself and came up with an artistically inspired iPad-only game called Bucco Arcade, which is both the game that had the least success and the one that I’m most proud of. While putting together this story I looked for screenshots or other materials about it, but apparently, everything regarding Bucco Arcade disappeared into the ether.

Eventually, I decided that the part that I liked the most about making games was the design part, and completely stopped programming. I liked coming up with names, logos, concepts. Games were fun, but as I grew older I was missing a sense of purpose.

I only picked up programming again while studying design in university, when I realized how much I missed it and how the web offered endless possibilities. I graduated from university not wanting to let go of either design or the web, and that’s how I ended up pursuing a career in UX/UI design. Although my job doesn’t involve coding per se, I still do it on the side and come up with little web development projects from time to time.

I write about the continuous journey between design and development, trying to provide value or interesting points of view to my readers. If you liked to read, consider hitting the “follow” button!



Federico Cella

Digital product design, development, and 10% random lessons from my personal and work life https://federicocella.com