The gathering of CoderDojo mentors at DojoCon 2013 at Slane Castle in Co Meath at the weekend demonstrated the mentors’ resolve to instill a passion for creativity and technology in kids from all over the world. The CoderDojo revolution began in Ireland only two years ago.
But within those two years the movement has spread to 26 countries around the world, where any given week as many as 16,000 kids gather in community halls, corporate lobbies and coffee shops to learn the lingua franca of the 21st century – software code.
The movement began when then teen coder James Whelton teamed up with entrepreneur Bill Liao and decided to address the anomaly of a lack of coding education in Irish schools. The endeavour struck a chord internationally and soon dojos began popping up in the US, Japan, France, the UK and countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
Present at the event in the historic rock-and-roll environs of Slane Castle was Disney technology VP Una Fox, who upon hearing about CoderDojo a year ago was inspired to establish a dojo in Los Angeles.
“It is great to be in an Irish organisation with a global reach and bringing this to the local community in LA,” Fox said. “I’m proud to be connected with it and the fact that it stemmed from an Irish community.”
Fox told fellow mentors that nothing compares to the light in kids’ eyes when they work on a computer and realise they can create something.
“We started out in LA with a group of 30 or 40 kids and every time we hold a session registration sold out in a couple of hours,” she said, adding that the LA dojo runs once a month but is about to be expanded to two per month.
Also present at the DojoCon 2013 event was successful technology entrepreneur Jerry Kennelly from Tweak.com, who in 2006 sold Stockbyte, an internet-based photography business he started in Kerry in the 1990s, to Getty Images for US$135m.
Kennelly told Siliconrepublic.com that he doesn’t believe the present education system prepares children for a world where their ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurial skills will set them apart.
“The education system leaves people with huge gaps in terms of real-world skills and everyone now needs to understand how technology works and have some execution skills.
“Young people entering third level or the workforce need to have a grip on it because everything we do today revolves around technology. If they want to make their futures safe, give themselves more independence, they’ve got to have a grip on technology, it’s absolutely essential.”
Kennelly told mentors that Ireland can become known as the island of coders and scholars rather than saints and scholars, where the country’s best and brightest execute and deliver some of the world’s best technology.
“The fact that CoderDojo comes out of here is not a surprise to me. We have a particular view of the world and we are sharing with the world. It’s a great story for this country and I believe Ireland can teach the world a whole lot more,” Kennelly said.
Taking IT to the next level
Whelton expressed his incredulity at the fact there are so many people around the world who are passionate about technology and share the same vision of teaching children how to program “in an environment that fosters creativity and passion for technology and not just producing the next bunch of people to fill roles in companies.
“But people who will push the bar and a new generation of people who can code and bring everything to the next level.”
Liao said the entire organisation was founded on the principle of open source and he said he found people’s generosity in terms of time and effort to be humbling.
“You see this incredible thing led by the tech industry called the open-source movement, where people give up their time, their passion and throw everything at it and make something great.”
He said Slane Castle’s owner Lord Henry Mount Charles donated the castle to the CoderDojo conference for the day for free.
“It was incredible generosity. That’s the sort of thing that makes me humble – just like, wow!”