Recent months have unearthed a wealth of computing and coding talent amongst Irish school kids with their hearts set on disrupting the technology world. The latest is a computing prodigy who at the age of six did his first Linux install.
Dublin schoolkid Shane Curran, age 11, admits his obsession with computers began when was six, when he did his first Linux install. When he was 7 he learned how to programme in Visual Basic and built a simple web browser that he made available on the web for download.
Since then, he has learned how to programme in multiple languages, such as PHP, C, C++, Java, Python, Ruby, Perl and Bash.
Curran, known on Twitter for his handle @TechieShane, is the latest in a crop of skilled youngsters who go to show that in spite of the enduring lack of a co-ordinated State strategy to equip young people with core IT skills, nothing will get in their way.
These include 19-year-old James Whelton, who became world famous for hacking the iPod nano, and before he even completed his Leaving Cert this year had his own software company, Disruptive Developments, up and running.
Last week, we reported on 12-year-old Harry Moran, who is officially the world’s youngest Mac app developer and who last week topped the Mac app charts with his game PizzaBot, which scattered Angry Birds and outflanked Call of Duty.
Curran has just developed a 21st-century version of the phone book called Peoplez.info that stores people’s names and email addresses in a MySQL database and then allows users to browse people who have registered, obtain their email and contact them. He has entered it into this year’s Junior Spiders Awards.
‘I’d like to be the owner of a large company’
I asked Curran how he got into computers at such an early age. “I just sat at a computer and I was interested to see how it worked and I looked inside. Something just sparked with me and I decided to get into lots of things, like Flash games.”
Curran, the eldest among his siblings, admits he has set a standard. “I am pretty good at picking up software languages. I learn it all online. The internet is very good for teaching you programmes and I taught myself a lot from the internet. Coder Dojo started during the year but largely to this point I have taught myself. At school, the teachers usually ask me if they have problems with the computers.”
I put it to Curran that many Irish parents that don’t understand computers usually tell their kids to get outside and pick up a sport. “I think that will change. I do a lot of sports, as well, and as long as I get a fair amount of sports done I can do what I want on my computer.”
Curran believes schools themselves are beginning to turn the corner on supporting young people who want to learn computer skills. “I do think schools show a lot of support. The one thing Coder Dojo could do is help to get schools teaching coding to the kids. That definitely needs to improve.”
I ask Curran what areas of technology currently excite him and will encourage him to create more products. “Android is a platform that I think is going to grow and grow. Open source allows developers to publish any app."
It feels a bit silly asking a young person that has achieved more with computers than most adults I know what they want to be when they grow up, but Curran isn’t short on ambition. “I’d like to be the owner of a large company. Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin are my inspiration. If I could get half as far as them I’d be happy.”