By Susan Hobbs (Conference Program Chair, TechCrunch)
On Saturday afternoon a group of 30 pint size wannabe hackers gathered at the GitHub offices in San Francisco for the first CoderDojo in the United States. Irish teen sensation, James Whelton had traveled to San Francisco to take his highly successful social hacking education platform to the United States.
CoderDojo began in Whelton’s final year of high school when he convinced the administration to lend him a room to begin a computer club after school. What Wheton thought would be a handful of geeky friends getting together to share their coding skills surprisingly brought 40 participants to that first session in Cork, Ireland. Thus began a whirlwind of then 18 year old Whelton’s next 9 months. CoderDojo quickly gained popularity in Cork and was drawing folks from across the country to meet with Whelton’s group. With the help of SOSventure’s Bill Liao, CoderDojo quickly expanded to Dublin and Whelton found himself traveling around the country and surrounding isles starting up new dojo groups.
The philosophy behind CoderDojo is one of lighthearted fun, creative problem solving and sharing the skills you love. Both in the U.S. and Europe there is an obvious high demand for developers. Whelton’s ideal is to take young hackers out of their parents’ basements and provide them a social environment in which to explore and hone their skills. Whelton is the son of two dentists who didn’t necessarily relate to their boy’s enthusiasm for web and game development, but nonetheless have been steadfast supporters of his whirlwind adventure. Whelton is now 19 and has forgone both university and an opportunity to start a funded company in order to take his CoderDojo around the world.
The start of CoderDojo’s first stateside meeting began with GitHub’s co-founder and CTO, Tom Preston-Werner and Creative Badass, Cameron McEfee. They were in Ireland for FunConf and heard the dynamic Whelton tell his story. McEfee had been seeking a way to contribute philanthropically, but just didn’t know how he wanted to do so with his skillset. Whelton’s idea was the perfect fit. McEfee gave Whelton a place to crash on his trips to San Francisco while Preston-Werner gave CoderDojo its first U.S. home in the GitHub’s San Francisco headquarters.
Saturday’s inaugural session was a huge success as one looked around the room as enthusiastic kids (ages 7-18, including my daughter) took their first crack at HTML and game development. The program is free. You only need to bring along a parent and a sack lunch for entry. Laptops are provided if you don’t have one to bring for the afternoon.
Whelton and his army of volunteers worked with the kids on HTML for the first half of the session and taught the kids how to use free game development software to create their own games for the remainder of the time. An emphasis on open source and free software makes CoderDojo accessible to everyone. In Ireland, CoderDojo produced a 12 year old iOS developer whose game outsold Angry Birds in November of last year.
If you wish to find, begin or volunteer to be a mentor at a dojo, visit Coderdojo’s website.
Photo credit: Octocat by Cameron McEfee.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Susan Hobbs is Conference Program Chair at TechCrunch. She started her career as a teacher in Southern California and returned to her Silicon Valley roots to join the startup scene in 2004. Susan was the first non-engineering hire at both Codian (acquired by Tandberg in 2007, then by Cisco Systems in 2008) and at CoTweet (acquired by ExactTarget in 2010). Her focus was in Product, Business Development and Marketing. Follow her on Twitter at @slh.