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.  
    RUSSIA GAS 06:49: BBC Radio 4

    Europe could cope if Russia were to interrupt gas supplies in retaliation to European sanctions, says Malcolm Bracken of stockbrokers Redmayne Bentley. Norway can increase oil and gas production and gas reserves are in a pretty healthy shape, he says. Vladimir Putin needs money from the West more than he's letting on so we shouldn't be too worried about the effect of sanctions, says Mr Bracken on Today.

     
  2.  
    BUSINESS RATES 06:43:

    More than 100 of the UK's biggest companies, including Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have called for an overhaul of business rates. In an open letter to the Daily Telegraph they say business rates "are no longer fit for purpose for the 21st century". The tax brings in £25bn for the Treasury annually.

     
  3.  
    OIL PRICES 06:35: BBC Radio 4

    Brent Crude fell below $97 a barrel on Monday for the first time in two and a half years. Malcolm Bracken of stockbrokers Redmayne Bentley explained the fall on the Today programme. "There's been a slowdown in China, cars are becoming more efficient, the war premium is falling, sanctions haven't really had an effect on oil production in Russia and money is tightening," he says.

     
  4.  
    ALIBABA SHARE SALE 06:20: Radio 5 live
    Alibaba head office, Hangzhou

    Alibaba has raised the price range of shares in its US stock market debut and could now raise $25bn (£15.4bn). The funds will allow the Chinese internet company "to make its mark" in the US market place says BBC Business presenter Rico Hizon on Wake Up to Money. Company executives are on an international road show to market the shares. Today there are in Singapore, tomorrow London.

     
  5.  
    SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE 06:12: Radio 5 live
    Scottish flag

    The leaders of the three main parties at Westminster have signed a pledge to devolve more powers to Scotland, if Scots reject independence. On Wake Up to Money Colletta Smith, the Economics Correspondent for BBC Scotland says it amounts to an "agreement to make some kind of agreement". Details will have to be worked out after the vote, she says.

     
  6.  
    PHONES 4U COLLAPSE 06:02: Radio 5 live
    Phones 4U

    "I'm not surprised it fell over," says fund manager, George Godber in reference to the failure of Phones 4U over the weekend. On Wake Up to Money Mr Godber says the company did "not have any room for financial manouevre" because its private equity owners had recently loaded it with £250m in debt. Phones 4U founder John Caudwell will be on Radio 5 at around 08:45.

     
  7.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Morning folks as always you can get in touch with us here at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk and on twitter @bbcbusiness.

     
  8.  
    05:59: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    Good morning. It's shaping up to be a busy morning with inflation figures due at 09:30 and we'll see what John Caudwell has to say about the demise of the company he founded, Phones 4U. Stay with us.

     

Features

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.