Where the only rule is 'be cool'

Hour of Code Coding clubs are springing up worldwide: Hour of Code event in Michigan, US

How did coding get so cool?

Let's be honest, it wasn't always that way. Being able to speak to computers in their own language wasn't the best way to impress at parties.

But in a world of digital billionaires it has become a deeply fashionable skill. It turns out that it's the geek who is going to inherit the earth.

And one of the fast-growing coding clubs has been CoderDojo.

It's a not-for-profit organisation running coding clubs for young people in 38 countries, with the founding principle that the only rule is: "Be cool."

It is established across Europe and North America, with a few clubs scattered across Asia and South America. Discussions with the US state department could see support for the clubs spreading further into Africa.

Temple of learning

The clubs are run by volunteers, teaching young people how to write code, build websites and make apps. The club's start-up supporters have an almost evangelical enthusiasm for these self-taught, unstructured, unbossy events.

The "dojo" is borrowed from Japanese martial arts, as the temple of learning. It taps into a culture where students are expected to pass on what they have learned to others, with the learners becoming mentors.

Bill Liao Bill Liao wants coding to be a sociable activity

Behind the CoderDojo project is Bill Liao, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who grew up in Australia and now lives in West Cork in Ireland.

Coding is at the heart of the digital world, he says. If you want to understand this world then you need to understand its language.

"Coding is a language skill.

"The best coders I know are poets. They have creativity and economy of expression. You see great code and it is elegant in its simplicity and rich in meaning."

We don't always recognise the beauty of well-made technology, he says, even when it is right in front of us.

"We marvel at a two year old tapping at an iPad using a computer. We should really be marvelling at an Apple engineer who can make a computer that a two year old can use."

Another reason for the upsurge in interest in coding is that it is going to help young people in a tough jobs market.

"Name a field of endeavour where understanding code wouldn't benefit your career choice," says Mr Liao.

Code father

Setting up the CoderDojo clubs, he says surprised him by how much children wanted to learn.

And he was pleasantly surprised by how generous people can be in donating their time and premises.

As an example of how it works on the ground, Rob Curran is a local CoderDojo "champion" in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Mr Curran came across the project when he brought his own son to a dojo and was so impressed that he now helps run a monthly session which attracts between 30 and 90 youngsters.

They learn how to use coding programmes such as Scratch, or use the simple Raspberry Pi computer or experiment with computer game such as Minecraft.

WhatsApp Will coders be the next generation of App millionaires?

What is the appeal for youngsters? It gives them hours of uninterrupted computer time and importantly, he says: "It is not school."

But the rise of computer clubs doesn't mean that the economy is suddenly awash with youngsters with the right skills.

Mr Liao's day job is as a venture capitalist and he says there are too many bright ideas looking for investors which are held back by a lack of coders.

"The entire world is run on code and we have run out of coders," he says.

As an entrepreneur, he says he wants to create an environment where youngsters can try to learn these skills and not worry about failure.

When they succeed there is instant playground credibility.

A 12 year old attending a CoderDojo club in Cork made a games app that was accepted for Apple's App Store, he says. He was so young his mother had to register the account for him.

Being able to show friends your own app on an iPhone is "achingly cool", he says.

'Hated school'

While the parents might be thinking about the cash advantages of a junior Bill Gates in the family, Mr Liao says such coding clubs have got to be sociable, reassuring and spontaneous places.

What he wants to avoid is the sense of isolation he felt as a child, teaching himself to use a computer in his bedroom in the suburbs of Melbourne.

Introducing coding event An introduction to coding event in south London last week

"I hated school. Mostly because I was racially vilified as a half-Chinese kid. It was pretty horrible."

But learning to use a computer was his escape from loneliness and bullying.

"It gave me access to something that has been incredibly powerful throughout my life."

And he says he has great empathy for the lonely child learning alone, wanting them to feel safe in the CoderDojo set up.

"Learning is a social activity. You learn more when you're doing it together."

Prince Andrew at CoderDojo event last week The Duke of York gave a royal seal approval to coding clubs at a CoderDojo event last week

And as the CoderDojo website puts it: "Bullying, lying, wasting people's time and so on is uncool."

He is also an advocate of the principle of working many years to become an overnight success. He describes his years refining the CoderDojo idea, with co-founder James Whelton, as his "Beatles in Hamburg years".

It isn't just CoderDojo that is surfing the coding wave. There are many other organisations bringing the coding message to young people, such as Code Club and Code Academy.

In the UK, this is the Year of Code, with the aim of encouraging more people to try to learn the language.

In the US and the UK there are "hour of code" projects for quick-fire lessons, supported by tech giants such as Microsoft and Google.

The BBC's School Report project has also gathered resources and materials about learning to code.

And even though CoderDojo clubs are spreading around the world, Mr Liao won't be rushing to see them all.

Not because of lack of interest, but because he has given up air-travel as part of an environmental, tree-planting project.

But the idea he wants to plant in all these clubs is to encourage creativity without a fear of failure.

"It's not just free, it's free thinking. It's not closed and institutional," he says.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    SUPERGROUP 07:35: Via Twitter James Quinn Executive Business Editor, Telegraph

    tweets: "Strong comeback from Sutherland who fell victim to all he tried to achieve at the Co-op Group, and can be credited with rescuing Co-op Bank."

     
  2.  
    07:29: SUPERGROUP
    SuperGroup chief executive, Euan Sutherland,

    Former Co-op Group chief executive Euan Sutherland is back having been announced as chief executive of SuperGroup this morning with immediate effect. He was previously CEO of Kingfisher UK, which operates B&Q, Screwfix and TradePoint.

     
  3.  
    07:21: GERMAN GROWTH BBC Radio 4

    Germany has very low unemployment, Dr Stephanie Hare, senior analyst for western Europe at Oxford Analytica tells Today. "Making more jobs for Germany isn't the issue here," she says. "We need stimulus and investment in countries that are going to help boost the future of Germany's trading partners in the eurozone. So we can either increase demand in Germany, or Germany could be part of a wider European solution to increase stimulus in its eurozone trading partners." She points out Germany has benefitted from other countries investing and stimulating its economy once or twice in the past century.

     
  4.  
    07:11: EUROTUNNEL

    Eurostar results yesterday, Eurotunnel results today. Revenues for the third quarter of 2014 increased 7% to €343.9m (£271.5m).

     
  5.  
    06:57: UK BORROWING Radio 5 live

    "The main reason tax receipts aren't as high as you'd like is the increase in personal tax allowance," says Alan Clarke, UK and eurozone economist at Scotiabank on Wake Up to Money. He's talking about yesterday's disappointing figures. There are more people in work, though, which means less spending on benefits, he says. Low-paid jobs mean that doesn't help as much as you may think, points out presenter Mickey Clark.

     
  6.  
    06:47: GERMAN GROWTH BBC Radio 4

    Christian Schultz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank, tells the Today programme Germany needs to work on its infrastructure, but even if it started to work on inward investment now the effects would not be felt for several years. This as more political pressure builds on Germany to act to avert another eurozone crisis. But German inward investment doesn't solve the problem, he says. "How does Germany fixing some bridges make French and Italian entrepreneurs invest more?"

     
  7.  
    06:34: STORM POWER
    storm

    The UK's wind farms generated more power than its nuclear power stations on Tuesday, the National Grid says. The energy network operator said it was caused by a combination of high winds and faults in nuclear plants. Wind made up 14.2% of all generation and nuclear offered 13.2%. As BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin reports, for a 24-hour period yesterday, spinning blades produced more energy than splitting atoms.

     
  8.  
    06:24: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    On things like transport and education, local government can make better decisions, says Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, which does independent research and policy analysis on UK city economies on 5 live. "Whatever you're doing in a city, you have to balance the books, though, she says. Competitiveness on tax becomes a "race to the bottom" she adds.

     
  9.  
    06:13: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    "I think there's real momentum... this is the biggest opportunity in decades to transport the relationship with local government," says Mr Wakefield on 5 live. The debate for Scottish independence shows there are a lot of people interested in local powers, he adds.

     
  10.  
    06:04: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    Allowing UK cities to make their own decisions on tax and spending could boost economic growth by £79bn a year by 2030, a year-long study has concluded. "More people want local powers in Leeds," says Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council on Radio 5 live. He thinks councils can target some spending more efficiently.

     
  11.  
    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via email at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  12.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business reporter

    Morning all. We have the latest minutes from the Bank of England's September Monetary Policy Committee meeting at 09:30; Argos and Homebase owner Home Retail Group publishes interim results before that and there are trading updates from GlaxoSmithKline, British American Tobacco and Everything Everywhere. We'll bring you it all as it happens.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Smart glassesClick Watch

    Smart spectacles go into battle – the prototypes looking to take on Google Glass

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.