CoderDojo, the coding movement begun a year ago by Cork teenager James Whelton that has now gone global, marked its first anniversary yesterday at a special dojo held in Ireland’s parliament, Dáil Éireann.
When you first arrive at a CoderDojo – there are more than 100 happening every Saturday in Ireland and across the world in America, Asia, Europe, Africa and recently the Caribbean – the first thing that strikes you is the intense focus in the room.
Across the road from Dáil Éireann at Buswell’s hotel, in a room paid for by Dell, that intense focus was in evidence. Despite the crowds and noise, kids as young as seven knotted their brows in earnest concentration as a class got under way.
On the other side of the street as Ireland’s news and PR media machines (including zimoframes employed for some kind of photo stunt, all that was missing was Malcolm Tucker) jostled with protesters on a variety of issues from airline pilots fees to household taxes, a small group of these earnest young coders quietly donned CoderDojo T-shirts and caps and, in a way that was markedly more dignified than the milling adults, quietly awaited their moment in the media glare.
Then three of RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den ‘dragons’ arrived (Sean O’Sullivan, Nora Casey and Gavin Duffy), photos were taken and the lucky kids (a mere fraction of the 5,000 or so that have so far joined to learn how to write software) were whisked inside Dáil Éireann where another dojo was taking place.
Inside Leinster House, politicians and business executives sat silently on the periphery of a class that was in full swing and the kids expressed delight and astonishment at how Scratch code could be manipulated to work with a Microsoft Kinect device to play either Pong or Space Invaders with the movement of the body. The classes were led by Steve Holmes of the Galway CoderDojo and Stephen Howell wrote and demonstrated the software that interfaced Scratch with the Kinect. The software is Kinect2Scratch and is available from http://scratch.saorog.com
The fact that Ireland’s parliament – thanks to the Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon – hosted this organisation that is just more than one year old is testimony to the viral effect the movement has had. Kids themselves know they need to know how to write software to thrive in the future, and now the adults are paying attention.
“Inexorable” was the word that Cork CoderDojo mentor Lyndsay MacVean and myself had been striving for that sums up the rise of the movement and Cannon remarked how he was moved by the success of a recent dojo in Galway and has taken up the call for a CoderDojo in every parish in Ireland.
A year ago I barely knew Whelton and if you’d asked me then if I would come to know Irish 12-year-olds who would make technology industry history, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Kids who code
Also present yesterday was 12-year-old Shane Curran from Dublin, a seasoned coder who at the age of six completed his first Linux install and who today mentors other kids in how to write software, Sean Reidy, who used crowdfunding to raise cash to buy a MacBook so he could code a video game, and sisters Holly and Hannah Kretschmer from Waterford who are learning code to build websites and games. Moran’s brother Con is also coding and was proudly showing off his website that he coded himself for his tree-planting charity Crainn.
I also got to meet Dale O’Shea and Dylan Varian, two 17-year-olds from Cork whose company Dharma Software marks the earliest of many entrepreneurial spin-outs to emerge from the dojo. O’Shea and Varian were barely able to contain their pride at having won three web design deals in a week.
I had to ask them who their hero in technology was and they both replied ‘Steve Jobs’. I asked them why not that other Zuckerberg bloke. “Nah,” they replied. “It’s Steve Jobs.”