How to build your own CoderDojo

2 Feb 2012

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Harry Moran (13) from Cork. who attended a CoderDojo and in three months learned how to code and in turn made computer industry history as the world's youngest Mac app developer

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James Whelton and Bill Liao’s CoderDojo movement is just over six months old but has ignited a grassroots revolution that has seen kids and teens flock to the events to learn how to code for their lives. They say anyone can bring a Dojo to their community and here’s how.

The past year has been remarkable to me not because of things like the iPad 2, the ongoing smartphone revolution, Siri, Facebook’s IPO, massive tech job creation in Ireland, cloud computing or things like 3D TV.

What makes the years 2011/2012 so remarkable is the fires of opportunity that are being kindled not by politicians, tech CEOs or new gadgets, but by some of the young kids in Ireland who are anxious to code and write their own software. Pay attention, because these kids may plant the seeds of economic growth for decades to come. None of the technological marvels we write about today would be possible without people like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Bill Gates (Microsoft), who from an early age learned how to code.

My favourite stories so far this year involve 13-year-old Harry Moran emerging as the world’s youngest Mac app creator, 11-year-old Shane Curran, who did his first Linux install at age six and Leaving Cert students Niall Paterson and Sam Caulfield, whose facial recognition software signals the death of passwords.

This time last year at the Dublin Web Summit I was impressed by then-Leaving Cert student Whelton’s sincerity and wisdom beyond his years and I reacted instinctively and impulsively when he arrived at my office months later to tell me about this thing he’d been working on, the CoderDojo movement. This deserved our support, without hesitation.

Since then, hundreds of youngsters and their parents have taken part in a revolution that has spread from Cork, Kerry and Dublin to Árainn Mhór off Ireland’s Atlantic coast and to cities like London and San Francisco.

Kids and their parents come along, everyone helps each other and kids construct the poetry of the 21st century. But this isn’t just any poetry, this is poetry in motion that could generate jobs and create meaningful careers and opportunities for decade to come. Even ordinary poems come with syntax errors, or a slight slip in cadence or rhythm, but the result is always remarkable.

Harry, for example, learned how to code via CoderDojo in just three months. He developed a game called PizzaBot that shot past Angry Birds and Call of Duty in the Mac App Charts. These kids are creating their own kind of mythology – at a careers night in my old secondary school in Trim, Co Meath, I spoke to kids who wanted to do computer science and they’d all heard about Harry.

Across Ireland, multinationals such as Google and Eli Lilly are offering up space to host these amazing events.

The recent CoderDojo on Árainn Mhór – held in the local school hall – was perhaps the best attended of them all, with more than 100 turning up. Just this week I received an email from 12-year-old Jordan Casey, who is an avid game and website coder who can’t wait until CoderDojo comes to Waterford.

How to bring CoderDojo to your community

CoderDojo co-founder Bill Liao told me how CoderDojo has sprung a life of its own and instead of waiting for a CoderDojo to arrive in their town, he urges enthusiasts to instigate their own Dojos. All the rest will follow.

He has a point: the Dojos are spreading, like wildfire, but the original founders can’t be everywhere and for the movement to spread those who are passionate about imbuing software and coding ability in our youth can easily start CoderDojos if they follow some basic rules.

The vital ingredient is enthusiasm and, according to the CoderDojo blog, CoderDojos should be free of charge.

Other things that will be needed:

A roof – ideally a local office building with an open space, such as a cafeteria.

A rhythm – the Dojos thrive on being open at least once a week, every week.

A network – you’ll need a Wi-Fi network, otherwise, no Dojo!

A talkative nerd – kids who want to code warm to experienced programmers who can inspire them.

A champion – effectively a leader who shows up every week to keep everything running smoothly.

Oh yeah, and there’s one rule – ‘above all, be cool’.

Siliconrepublic.com is hosting Skills February, a month dedicated to news, reports, interviews and videos covering a range of topics on the digital skills debate.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com