LOS ANGELES – The spread of CoderDojo in just one year to nearly every geography on the planet has been fascinating to watch. But an unexpected pleasure to emerge from the Irish Technology Leadership Group’s annual Hollywood 50 event was the hosting of the very first dojo in a Hollywood studio.
At Sony Pictures Studios (the historic former Columbia studios) where the ITLG held its Hollywood 50 event, Innovation in Entertainment, last night, kids as young as seven came from all over California, from Los Angeles and San Francisco including rural Salinas, where the local mayor has championed the establishment of a Coder Dojo.
The LA chapter of CoderDojo has been spearheaded by Disney’s vice-president of technology (client relations) Una Fox, an Irishwoman based in LA who upon hearing about the year-old movement decided to champion the establishment of a dojo in the city.
Just over a year ago, teenage coder James Whelton and entrepreneur and investor Bill Liao co-founded CoderDojo with the intention of providing an outlet for kids to learn how to write software. The success of the movement resulted in Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, hosting a CoderDojo at Leinster House in July.
There are now 104 dojos happening every Saturday afternoon (41 in Ireland) in cities from Dublin to Florence, and Tokyo, LA, New York, London and Chicago. New ones are sprouting up in Jamaica and Africa. On any given Saturday, an average of 6,000 kids between the ages of seven and 17 in Ireland and around the world are teaching each other how to write code.
Just this week, a Silicon Valley CoderDojo was held at Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View, California.
At the Hollywood dojo, at least 40 kids taught each other Scratch with the idea of creating a special Halloween-themed game. The dojo also hosted a kids panel, which included nine-year-old Caine Monroy, who spent his summer building an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his dad’s used auto-parts store and became world famous in the process.
ITLG president John Hartnett said bringing CoderDojo to Innovation in Entertainment illustrated the convergence between Silicon Valley and Hollywood in terms of technology and digital distribution of media via smartphones tablets, video games and apps.
“The fact that CoderDojo emerged out of Ireland and has spread virally throughout the world was especially significant,” he said.
Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, Fox said the dojo has been well received in the LA area. “Google right away signed up to be a partner and so far we’ve had three sessions at their Venice Beach offices. Every time we set up a dojo the event is sold out within 24 hours and usually we have about 40 kids per session.
“This is due to limitations of space but we’d love to have more dojos set up throughout the LA region, like one in Santa Monica, for example.”
Fox said she was encouraged to pursue CoderDojo for LA by her friend Shara Karasic, who also worked in technology and has a young son.
“It’s been great – word of mouth has spread through the schools. Parents here are concerned about the whether the kids are learning enough about technology, science or engineering and when they go online there’s great programmes for spelling, reading and maths but nothing that teaches them how to understand computing.
“Technology is still regarded as a niche, academic thing, but parents here want to inspire their kids and give them a broader education,” Fox said.