Festival of Code: Third year running at BBC Birmingham

Young Rewired State logo Young Rewired State is a worldwide community of digital makers aged 18 and under

The Festival of Code returned to BBC Birmingham for its third year, seeing 25 young people participate in a week-long coding event at the BBC.

Coding is the art of instructing computers to do what you want, by using a language the machine can understand. It can involve making apps, websites and more.

The week is part of the Young Rewired State, aimed primarily at self-taught young coders with an interest the goal of enabling them to learn new skills, network and have a good time.

Participants are put into groups where they create hack projects (meaning a coding project just for fun) - with the only rule being that it has to include open data (data that's freely available on the internet).

As one of the participants at BBC Birmingham said: "It's a chance to get out from coding alone in my bedroom and meet up with other computing enthusiasts", a useful thing to do since coding can be a solitary pastime.

Organiser of the BBC Birmingham week, Jim Johnson-Rollings, says interest is growing each year: "I think it's a fantastic opportunity for like-minded young people to get together and spend some of their summer holidays working on a collaborative project, and hopefully learn something too.

"It's exactly the sort of thing I'd have loved to do as a teenager.

"We have had new people come each year, but also a few have returned the past few years and it's great to watch them develop."

All the coders at BBC Birmingham working on their team projects All the coders at BBC Birmingham working on their team projects

The BBC is involved as part of our outreach strategy, connecting with our younger - and sometimes hard to reach - audience. With the additional benefit of allowing participants to gain experience, contacts and skills which may help them in their future careers.

Presenting to industry experts

The Festival of Code started in 2009 as a weekend hacking event and now sees over 1,200 young people from the UK, USA, Germany, Norway and Kosovo join in, according to organisers.

At the end of the week the coders are invited to a residential weekend where they have the opportunity to present their projects to industry experts, participate in a series of workshops and hacking challenges and see their work put forward in the awards ceremony.

Jim said: "Last year one of the teams from BBC Birmingham made it all the way to the final three in the Best in Show category with 'The Hook' - a digital coat-rack. It connected to the Met Office to find out what the weather was like, and told you which items of clothing you needed to wear. The app went on to win the public vote, which happens after the event ends."

This year the final weekend took place in Birmingham, and although four of the BBC Birmingham teams got through to the semi-final and one got into the final, there were sadly no winners from Birmingham.

Elliot and one of his teammates having to resolve issues in their code Elliot and one of his teammates having to resolve issues in their code

Although that hasn't stopped the participants getting something positive from the experience, as Elliot, 17, said: "I came last year. It was something I was interested in and it really improved my computing skills so I couldn't wait to do it again this year."

Elliot has ambitions to be a pilot but says because the aviation industry is highly competitive he sees coding as a potential back-up plan: "There are a lot of transferable skills between coding and my dream job.

"There will always be a need for coders and people with computing knowledge so I'm just enjoying doing it at the moment as a hobby, knowing that it could lead to a job for me in the future."

'I'm really proud'
Izzy is used to doing HTML so challenged herself to do something new this year Izzy is used to doing HTML so challenged herself to do something new this year

Izzy, 13, is another return-coder who does a lot of her learning at home with her mum.

"I've been coding for about two and a half year. I like it because it's something you can self-teach," she explains.

"My mum got into it to help her with career prospects, so we actually watch YouTube tutorials together.

"Most adults don't understand what you're doing - so they don't get in your way too much. It means you can get on with it and make new friends and do it privately."

As this was her second time at the event, Izzy got to help some newer coders with their work and was encouraged to test herself to learn something new.

"We were asked to swap coding languages. I had never used Microsoft dos (MS DOS) before, but in two days I have learnt seven commands. I'm really proud of that.

"I've also had to step out of my comfort zone and let someone else do the HTML. I'm on the back-end stuff that you won't see, the PHP (server-side scripting language), making the database. I would never think of doing this side of things in my own time, but now I can and I can take this into future projects."

'It sounded cool'
Jack Jack has been through the Festival of Code as a coder and now returns as a mentor

Coder-turned-mentor, Jack, 18, found focus after coming to a previous Festival of Code: "I didn't know what I wanted to do at the time, I had always been interested in computers. I gave it a shot and really liked programming.

"At the time I was trying to make some decisions about my future - I had wanted to be an archaeologist. I actually only tried out coding on a whim. It sounded cool. Far more hip than being an archaeologist anyway!

"I did the week and it inspired me to learn a bit more. I started doing it at home, self-teaching using online courses and problem solving websites like Project Euler.

"Now I'm doing computer science at university and I'm building on my skills there. Coding has become almost second nature to me, so I thought I would come back here and share the skills I have learnt at the place where it all started."

BBC Birmingham also hosts a monthly coding club for up to 18-year-olds. Find out more about Coding Brum on Twitter.

The Festival is free to participate in so if you would like to be involved next summer, either as a participant, mentor or centre, you can register your interest online.


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