Saturday 10 December 2016

Coolest Projects can develop into the next Web Summit

The Web Summit's day is done - maybe it's time to focus on the next generation, writes Paul J Phelan

Paul J Phelan

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Coderdojo Coolest Projects Awards
Coderdojo Coolest Projects Awards

An Irish innovation is at the centre of a technological revolution that holds the key to producing Europe's innovators of the future.

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Given its growth in the past four years, Coolest Projects has the ability to develop into the equivalent of the Web Summit for younger people in Europe, with all the benefits that this would bring to Ireland.

In the coming month, a delegation from Coolest Projects will visit Brussels on the first stage of a journey to bring Ireland's expanding coding and digital skills showcase for young people to the entire continent.

Our task is to convince EU legislators that we have identified a way of engaging youngsters in exploring and creating apps, websites, games and robots that consistently leave industry experts awestruck.

The Coolest Projects awards are unique in Europe and were established on a voluntary basis by a number of industry professionals as both a competition and exhibition to support and inspire a generation of innovators, creators and entrepreneurs aged from 7 to 17. The awards, which are now in their fourth year, create a unique platform for young people to develop a broad set of digital abilities by offering them the opportunity to showcase the skills they have learned at CoderDojo.

These digital skills are vital if Ireland, and indeed Europe, is to address the coding skills shortage which has led to in excess of 500,000 open job postings across the continent in 2015.

Coolest Projects has seen young people deliver projects across the latest technologies, from Cloud, to Internet of Things (IoT) to Virtual Reality and has the potential to drive vital digital skills across a European platform.

This year's Coolest Projects awards featured more than 500 entries from young people across Ireland and beyond and attracted more than 5,000 spectators to witness demonstrations of this year's submissions. And we estimate that we will have over 800 entries to the 2016 awards and up to 10,000 attendees.

Although the showcase event is held in Ballsbridge, the awards are a Europe-wide event, with participants from the UK, Poland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Romania and Turkey. CoderDojo currently operates in 16 European countries and by 2017 our target is to have Coolest Projects from every European country with a CoderDojo involved.

Coolest Projects awards is an eight-month-long event and this month local centres around the country will begin to engage with the event and support project development in their weekly sessions.

These will result in projects such as Recharge My Car, an app which shows real-time information on charging points for electric cars, allowing you to find your nearest free point. This was written by 12-year-old Niamh Scanlon.

And 11-year-old Lauren Boyle created the Cool Kids Studio online platform and mobile app to teach life, technology, art and maths skills to the world around her and was named the Young EU Digital Girl of the Year 2014.

Inspired by an aunt with cerebral palsy, Conor Begley (17) created a communication device for the physically disabled. And Harvey Brezina Conniffe (14) created a safety device to provide parents and local authorities with greater protection in local parks, using bluetooth and Intel's Edison boards.

These are a small sample of the many projects over the last four years that have been truly inspiring and have made significant impact. These young people are innovating at such a level that it is imperative we continue to drive and support them. The results have exceeded the initial hopes of the industry experts who established the awards in 2012. At the time, we identified the skills that CoderDojo participants would need to develop to support the requirements of STEM industries.

Teaching a subject is one aspect of education. We believe that by encouraging and supporting innovators to enhance their education though creative thinking, a far greater impact and significance to what is being taught is achieved.

A host of skills are required to be a successful innovator, including product development, design, communication, presentation, launch and analytic skills. We encourage innovation by teaching the skills necessary to deliver products to market through a series of workshops.

A recent article in Forbes magazine reported that 80pc of jobs in the future don't even exist yet. Jobs driven from the urgency of trying to course correct the societal issues that face us in 2050 will be heavily reliant on technology and a workforce well equipped with digital skills.

The impact of not being able to match supply with this level of demand is a significant threat for our STEM industries.

Our challenge in Coolest Projects is not whether it will grow exponentially - our experience has given us the answer already.

It is how we manage and harness this growth to help solve the digital-skills challenge that is facing Ireland and Europe.

Paul J Phelan is operations manager of Intel's public affairs group and co-founder of Coolest Projects

Sunday Indo Business

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