Coder Dojo – Why it’s good for kids, parents and mentors — AND supporters!

nsc campus mahon cork

Please note: corrected time of session below!

Coder Dojo Cork
NSC Campus, Mahon, Cork
12 -3pm

Started to post something about this on Twitter and sometimes 140 characters is not enough…

I’m not a numbers person, that’s why I married one, but Bill Liao, who founded Coder Dojo with James Whelton, was saying about how a coder can generate something like a million euro a year and if we can produce a certain number of coders from the upcomging generation we can cover the country’s deficit (sorry Bill for the poor paraphrasing, you can correct me by comment).  The software industry in Ireland is strong and many international offices are making Ireland, even Cork and not just Dublin, their international bases. We’ve heard about Google, Facebook and Microsoft setting up in Ireland; but we’ve got many other tech companies that need the skills of good programmers and coders.

See James  ‘rock’ the Dublin Web Summit at with his talk all about Coder Dojo,  because he tells it much better than I can and has PowerPoint.

coder dojo ireland logoI first noticed Bill tweet about Coder Dojo a couple weeks before it started in Cork in July 2011.  It sounded like a great idea – a club for kids to learn about coding, creating computer games, developing websites and apps, etc.; but I came up with a number of ideas why it wouldn’t suit to go:

  • The hour drive up to Cork.
  • We didn’t have any spare laptops.
  • Kids have sports, birthday parties, etc. on Saturdays.
  • Kids don’t know any coding.
  • I’m not a ‘proper’ coder so wouldn’t be much help.
  • Guilt of going to Cork and having fun while husband is painting house, working at home around the farm, etc.

Then after the first session I saw Conor O’Neill post that he had been up with his son and they both had really enjoyed it, so it gave me that extra push to go up.

coder dojo cork sean gallagherI left the 8 year old daughter home with her daddy (not because she was a girl, but because of her age) and we headed up to the NSC in Mahon with my two boys 11 and 13 and a couple of old laptops that I decided were OK for the kids to use. We arrived right on time and the place filled up quickly, perhaps because it happened to be when Presidential candidate Sean Gallagher was visiting as well as the Nationwide film crew for a profile of James. I hadn’t heard about the wunderkind that is James Whelton so was suprised to find that he was only 18.  His manner with the kids was amazing and they become very interested right away. Now I am an HTML/CSS wiz, but do you think the kids would sit at home and learn from me? At Coder Dojo, even when I was doing the coaching, the kids were eager to learn.

The kids were dying to go back the next week and we brought my 8 year old daughter and a friend’s son as well.  Due to problems with our laptops (ie me forgetting A/C adapter etc.) the lads brought up some old desktops that were donated by CorkBIC (I think) and the kids were able to work away on those. They were still sticking to learning HTML/CSS and were very happy with the websites they set up for themselves, especially the daughter and her Pet Club site.  The lads were really wanting to get into coding games, but there wasn’t yet a chance to start on that.

Shortly after this the Dublin Dojo was launched at Google, so James and his mates were up there for the launch of that.  Will Knott stepped in and started with a more structured lesson on Javascript and the kids started learning about more interactive coding – setting up a script to play rock/paper/scissors.  Will has been able to come every other week and has continued the Javascript lessons, but we’ve only been up the opposite weeks, going every other week because of soccer matches, etc.

Another week Bill brought along two men that were just about to launch their own start-up – Esteban and Eddie Salazar of Dittit. While they were there to see Bill they spent time helping the kids.  Esteban spent a good amount of time looking up some code to help one of my sons — and also gave me a lead to a great resource for outsourcing WordPress custom development, which I really needed!

Last week there was much excitement with the launch of Pizza Bot a game developed at Coder Dojo by Harry.

There are now Dojos in Limerick and Kerry as well and they seem to be moving along really well, but the fact that it’s growing so fast as brought some issues.

Some parents were put off by the casual set up.  While I think a little more organisation can be helpful and will ensure the growth and longevity of the Dojos, the casual nature is fitting to coding and many people in in the industry. The main issue is getting enough mentors so that there is something to keep the kids’ skills and interest growing.

Call for Mentors!

We really need to get a few more people with various coding skills that can come in and work with the kids.  A weekly commitment is NOT necessary, only the desire to help and pass on your knowledge to the next generation. Come along on a Saturday and see how it goes. Also, if you have your own start up idea hanging out here will do you no harm.  Bill has even said that he’d be happy for some to set up a desk here for a base if needed. There is also a stream of other start ups and others in the tech industry coming in and out of the Dojo that you will be interacting with.

Call for Kids and Parents!

coder dojo white hat hackingIf as a parent you were agreeing with the reasons not to come that I listed above, now have a look at the reasons I’ve found to come:

  • No harm getting the kids up to the nearest big city and Mahon Point Shopping Centre is just next door.
  • Kids are learning an important skill that could really benefit them in the future whether that’s secondary school, university or a career.
  • Kids are getting to interact with like minded kids, especially beneficial for the ones that feel left out because they are more interested in this sort of thing than sports or music, though I’d say the atmosphere is more supportive of the feeling that you can do it all, or as much as anyone wants to do.
  • A great group of parents and mentors there so a chance for great conversation – on a wide range of topics, not just parenting and tech.
  • As mentioned for mentors, there’s a stream of people in the industry that are beneficial to network with, even on a casual basis.
  • Parents do not need to have ANY computer skills, but you may pick up some here if you aren’t careful.
  • Husband is enjoying the time on his own and we are bringing some nice treats back from Cork for him.

Just realised that I didn’t mention that it’s FREE!  How many activities can you find for kids these days that are free?

Call for Supporters!

treats for parents and mentors at coder dojoYeah, so did I mention that it’s free?  Well it wouldn’t be possible if not for the generosity of the venue NSC Mahon that provides the space and utilities at no charge; CorkBIC that has helped and provided those desktops; and those like James, Bill and Will that are committed to offer their time at no charge.

We still need more stuff, like: the bean bags and lava lamps that Bill thinks are so conducive to coding; old laptops, desktops and other equipment (even if it is no use to you it could come in handy); extension cords; books on coding, design, etc.; coffee, donuts and other treats to keep mentors and parents happy.

The benefit to supporters, besides the great feeling of helping the next generation and your country, is the exposure you will get to those involved in Coder Dojo and the press coverage it is getting.

One important thing we need is your good word of mouth.  Get the word out to your friends and collegues that may have children that are interested or could be possible mentors or supporters. Tweet about it, post it on Facebook/LinkedIn/Google+/etc, tell your schools about it, get an article in your local paper.

Out of complete selfishness I am hoping you will all come to and support the Cork Dojo, but if you want information on the other Dojos see, @coderdojodublin, @coderdojolim

Hope to see you at Coder Dojo next Saturday!  Look for me, I’m the one with the donuts!

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