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CoderDojo's James Whelton talks to Startacus

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by Startacus Admin

James Whelton started hacking and coding at just 9 years old. Then just a few years later he co-founded CoderDojo, a free coding club for young people in his native Cork. CoderDojo has now become a james wheltonglobal movement with over 16,000 young people learning how to code in 23 countries worldwide. Pretty impressive! With the 2nd Annual CoderDojo Mentor Conference happening this weekend in Slane Castle, we were delighted when James took a few minutes out ahead of all the prep to give us a lowdown on the phenomenon that is CoderDojo.

So James, why has Slane Castle – famously associated with pumping rock concerts – been chosen as the site for your global mentors meet up?

Slane Castle in my eyes is a legendary venue and has had an incredible bunch of characters come and go in years past. It is also a beautiful location and there’s an air of excitement when you visit the place, much more so than a hotel conference room or something. Slane to many is a pretty cool location and CoderDojo aims to make coding cool and fun, so it also seemed like a fitting match. The conference team did an outstanding job getting the venue, which the use of for the day has been kindly donated by Lord Henry, who recognises CoderDojo as an altruistic volunteer movement that he is happy to support. Also we'll have a guitar there on the day so mentors can play a few chords and say they "played Slane Castle".

In the last few years, more and more businesses have emerged offering a similar style of teaching in coding. Do you consider them competition, and what attributes do you think Coderdojo has, that will keep it ahead of the market?

I don't really consider business competition, we each have our roles and place in technology education, particularly when they can develop great free tools and platforms, such as Codecademy that can be leveraged in Dojo sessions. I've met with a few education start ups (like Codecademy), they all have a great vision and generally are working on some cool things! I think as CoderDojo is physical location based, that’s a strong attribute, fostering real world social interaction and building local community, which can translate into a stronger Dojo, more people involved in the movement and a stronger movement as a result. A strong community, with core values on a open source movement with willing to iterate and try new things will be the attribute that keeps CoderDojo ahead of the market.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Perhaps NSFW, but Eamon Leonard told me just before my first overseas talk at JSConf to "Never be a d**k. It stuck with me, in that treat everyone with respect, be responsible, realise when you're wrong, make amends, try and make everyone win and be fair. I know it’s a fairly obvious piece of advice, but I always keep it in my mind. By trying to be an easy going, chilled, level headed person it has served me well in business, with how I interact and operate.

How does an, initially, one would assume, small organisation like Coderdojo secure partnerships with entrepreneurial giants like Intel and The Science Gallery?

A strong message and vision, layered with real world proof. By going to Science Gallery and Intel and saying this is who we are, this is what we do, this is our future and here are some of the stories and metrics from our past, they saw the vision and came onboard. We were honest and straight up and by finding a champion in each organisation who would support our cause internally this always strengthened our case.

Coding seems to be an increasingly popular buzz word for children. Why do you think that is?

A few things, it’s becoming cooler, primarily by the rockstar image portrayed by the tech world, young people striking it big, the fame and all sorts of other factors, more stories of young people doing well, it’s in the news more. It’s becoming fashionable and with that, coding is becoming more accessible, it’s now being discussed as a real learnable thing, not some cryptic language or trade secret, but what hooks them is the real buzz of coding, being able to create something, put it online and show the world, it’s empowering. Furthermore when they show friends, parents, relations, whoever, the message spreads, that anyone can code, make something from a few lines and be proud of it.

Which guest speaker are you most excited to hear at Slane?

Kimberly Bryant from Black Girls Code will be great and it'll be fantastic to hear about what other organisations are doing too and how we can learn from there. Jerry Kennelly will be awesome too, he’s a guy with great drive and ambition and doesn't mess around!

So there you have it. The lowdown on CoderDojo from James Whelton, “Web'preneur',Hacker & Social Media Connoisseur “ and as he proclaims himself “Not another victim of conformity.”

We need more inspirational people like this, wouldn’t you agree...and on that note check out our article on Rails Girls - the movement and meetup to encourage more female coders! 

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Published on: 10th April 2013

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