Bill Liao and James Whelton to unleash Coder Dojos on schools

15 Jul 2011

A not-for-profit network of computer clubs or dojos aimed at teaching kids to code is coming to Irish schools very soon. The project, which also has international potential, is the brainchild of XING co-founder Bill Liao and 18-year-old technology entrepreneur James Whelton.

The initiative is aimed at fostering coding talent in Irish school kids and creating an environment where youths can learn coding skills from one another and learn from an evolving syllabus of languages, including Objective C, XCode and CSS, as well as a range of different graphic design and media technologies.

Whelton told that the ambition is to expand the dojo from the first event happening in Cork next week to a national movement where schools around the country will host the Saturday morning computer clubs and empower the next generation of coding talent.

At 17, Whelton became the first person to hack the iPod Nano and just days after completing his Leaving Cert he has begun building his own social media start-up Disruptive Developments, which has just received Enterprise Ireland backing.

Liao, along with Lars Hinrichs, co-founded Open Business Club in Hamburg in 2003 as a platform for business professionals and renamed it XING in 2006. XING was one of the first Web 2.0 companies to go public and has grown to become one of the world’s leading business-to-business social networking portals.

The first chapter of Computer Dojo will take place in the National Software Centre in Mahon, Cork, on Saturday, 23 July, and will run weekly every Saturday. The plan is to branch out nationally with the co-operation of teachers and parents from September.

Building a national network of quality coders

Whelton knows the formula will work from his own experience in forming a computer coding dojo in his own school, which attracted 40 members. Not long after he was being contacted by students from all over Munster looking for help in starting their own dojos.

“The key is to make them attractive to youths of all ages and experience levels. The ethos will be on teaching young people how to create quality code and we’re aiming to create hackatons and competitions where people will submit websites and contextual apps with good design and core level code. We’ll create a recognition system of different belts like you would see in martial arts.

“When I was learning computers in school, the older kids who were advanced would often take a step back and help the younger kids who were genuinely interested.”

Whelton said the idea that Irish school kids are being turned into passive consumers of internet content rather than creators isn’t entirely true. “There are lots of kids out there in schools across Ireland who are seeking an outlet for their talents. Many of them are brilliant at coding but are largely self-taught.

“For example, I was speaking with an 11-year-old recently who, at the age of six, did his first Linux install and today is writing technology blogs.”

Whelton, who spoke at the Dublin Web Summit earlier in the year, mentioned his idea of putting computer clubs in Irish schools to Eoghan Jennings, former CFO of XING who now runs Startupbootcamp Ireland, who put him in contact with Liao, who is passionate about developing technology talent in schools.

Others who have helped include Michael O’Connor of the National Software Centre, Gavin Burke, Michael Culligan of the Dublin Business Incubation Centre and Eamonn Sayers of the Guinness Enterprise Centre.

I asked Whelton about his new company. “I’m CEO of Disruptive Development and we have received private investment and investment from Enterprise Ireland that will allow us to operate for a year and half without further investment needed. I don’t want to say too much about our technology except to say it will help brands be more successful at social media.

“I’ve hired three people so far – two talented young developers, Sean Phillips and Shane Doyle, and a talented designer, Hilary Quinn. We’re head down building our first products.”

Photo, above: Tech entrepreneur James Whelton

Photo, below: Bill Liao, co-founder XING

Bill Liao

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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