Derek Lyons

Résumé & Prior Work


About Me

I am a seasoned and creative iOS/games developer with deep expertise in software engineering and cognitive science. My background includes leading engineering for an iOS games studio with 80k daily active players, original research in AI and machine learning, and a Ph.D. in cognitive developmental psychology. I am a fast builder, an enthusiastic collaborator, and passionate about crafting great products.

Technical Skills

  • 3.5 years of commercial iOS development expertise with multiple shipped games and apps.
  • Fluent in Objective-C and C++; significant prior work in Java and Javascript; experience with Rails and OpenGL ES.
  • Skilled at architecting modular and reliable code, with a knack for tenacious testing, debugging, and optimization.

Professional Experience

Lead Game Developer, Motion Math Games

San Francisco, CA (Jan. 2012-Present)
  • Primary code architect and lead engineer for Motion Math's award winning suite of iOS learning games, with three million App Store downloads to date.
  • Serve as one of the studio's core game designers, with shared responsibility for inventing, prototyping and refining game concepts and gameplay systems.
  • Titles include Wings (2012, Parents' Choice Silver Honor Winner), Questimate! (2013, Apple New & Noteworthy, Children's Technology Review Editor's Choice), and Match (releasing September 2013).

Independent iOS Developer

Irvine, CA (2010-2011)
  • Developer and designer of Notably, an iPad writing app with automatic Dropbox sync.
  • Originally released with the launch of the first iPad in 2010, Notably remained a popular choice in the competitive writing category for more than 18 months.

Lead Developer & Project Scientist, University of California, Irvine

Irvine, CA (2009-2011)
  • Project leader for Karunatree: a National Science Foundation-sponsored web game designed to promote environmental literacy in children.
  • Managed a diverse group of developers, artists, and teachers to bring Karunatree to life, delivering on NSF educational goals and receiving recognition from the Startl Foundation for innovation in educational technology design.

Visiting Professor, Reed College

Portland, OR (2008-2009)
  • Teaching topics include object-oriented programming, animal models for AI architecture, and the design of educational children's media.


2008 Ph.D. Yale University Cognitive Developmental Psychology

2004 S.M.    MIT Media Laboratory Media Arts & Sciences (AI focus)

2002 M.Sc. University of Oxford Information Engineering

2000 B.A.    Reed College Chemistry

Honors & Awards

2000 Rhodes Scholar

2004 National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Research Fellow

2002 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

1998 Goldwater Scholar

1996 Reed College Presidential Scholarship

Selected Scientific Publications

A selection of my favorite papers from my doctoral research in cognitive development. For a more narrative overview, try the Times article or the video!

The New York Times
Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't.

Project Felix
Just for fun: a Ph.D. retrospective cinematic experience.

  1. Lyons, D.E., & Keil, F.C. (2013). Overimitation and the development of causal understanding. In M.R. Banaji & S.A. Gelman (Eds.), Navigating the social world: What infants, children, and other species can teach us. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2. Lyons, D.E., Damrosch, D., Lin, J.K., Macris, D.M., & Keil, F. C. (2011).The scope and limits of overimitation in the transmission of artifact culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366, 1158-1167.

  3. Lyons, D.E., Young, A.G., & Keil F.C. (2007). The hidden structure of overimitation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 104(50), 19751-19756.

  4. Lyons, D.E., Santos, L.R., & Keil, F.C. (2006). Reflections of other minds: How primate social cognition can inform the function of mirror neurons. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 16, 1-5.

  5. Lyons, D.E., & Santos, L.R. (2006). Ecology, domain specificity, and the origins of theory of mind: Is competition the catalyst? Philosophy Compass, 1, 1-12.