Thursday 29 September 2016

Meet the jet-set 10-year-old who taught Enda how to code a website

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Lauren Boyle was in San Francisco last week to speak to delegates at a Salesforce conference
Lauren Boyle was in San Francisco last week to speak to delegates at a Salesforce conference

Dubliner Lauren Boyle is quite something. She's created a couple of websites, developed an app, taught the Taoiseach how to code and shot a few hoops on the basketball court. Lauren is 10 years old. She's also the European Digital Girl of the Year. And she's one of the most normal kids on the planet.

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I met Lauren in the bowels of the Moscone Centre in San Francisco last week as the Salesforce behemoth conference Dreamforce 15 rumbled on upstairs. She had flown over because Lauren was to speak to delegates alongside CoderDojo boss Mary Moloney. If you have kids and you don't know about CoderDojo, prepared to be wowed. It's a not for profit - funded by Salesforce - that helps kids learn how easy it is to code and demystify technology.

"I'm 10 and I'm from Dublin and I code websites and games. I play the violin and I'm in two orchestras," says Lauren, who is totally unfazed by doing an interview. She has, after all, spoken in front of 7,000 people at one stage. She saw CoderDojo's co-founder James Whelton on the Late Late Show.

"I decided to go to my first CoderDojo and I made a game. I was really excited," she says. "I went back the next week and made another. After six dojo sessions I made a game that won the Coolest Projects competition." It was a baking game. In real life Lauren says she's "okay" at baking. "Then I went on to make websites and a series of sites called the Coolkids Studio," she adds. These sites are aimed at kids aged up to 12 and provide ideas on various life skills such as healthy eating. About 10,000 people have clicked on to her sites.

"No, it's now 12,000!" Lauren corrects me with a smile. She has also developed an app which encourages kids to try out Steam (science, technology, engineering, art and maths). This is really the key point of outfits like CoderDojo, to try to persuade kids to get into technology early. The big problem is with girls. Research has shown that if girls have not developed an affinity with science or technology by the end of primary school, they may never develop capabilities in the space. Harry Potter fan Lauren has tried to teach some of her friends to code. It's really quite easy. In fact, she sat down with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and taught him. "It was good," she says. "We made an animation with hexagons."

She describes the process of learning to write code at a CoderDojo session. "You go to CoderDojo and decide what you would like to make and you come up with ideas. There are mentors to help you if you can't figure something out. Usually if there's something that I don't know, I'd use open source which really helps."

Open source is a giant online resource for developers and coders. "I'm trying to further develop my app at the moment and add a few things to it." Developing a mobile app is far more complicated than a website, and that really shows how much Lauren has learnt at CoderDojo that she was able to take on such an ambitious project so soon after starting. "My first website took about six months, probably because I had to do a lot of research but the coding probably just took three months."

CoderDojo's Mary Moloney explains that coding or technology wouldn't necessarily have to replace other subjects if it was taught at schools. "Drop religion or Irish? We always get asked that. But you don't have to drop anything, you just do this as well. The most effective way of introducing technology is to do it in other subjects. Get people to learn history using Google or a foreign language by talking to a kid in another country using Skype. It's an ancillary rather than a replacement," she says.

Lauren develops her burgeoning media empire from a new Sony Vaio laptop that she won as a prize at the Coolest Projects competition. "Before that, I was using my mum's computer which was clunky and really big and slow," she laughs. She also won the European Digital Girl of Year, which saw her travel to Rome for the prize. It's been a blur of exciting travel and meetings. As well as coming to San Francisco for Dreamforce, she has visited SAP in London, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and the Web Summit. A visit to Intel in Leixlip saw her learn about nanotechnology. "After that my brain was like fizzzzz," she laughs.

Lauren has big plans. "When I'm older, I'd like to set up my own business, probably around Steam." She's also pretty excited by augmented reality. "I'd like to do robotics too. Maybe a robot to do the dishwasher or to clean the house. That'd be useful." Lauren is a walking, talking example of what can be achieved if normal, smart kids - particularly girls - are exposed to technology at an early stage. There's a real opportunity here.

Sunday Indo Business

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