Friday 22 March 2019

Every young person should have the chance to learn to code

Niamh Scanlon at the launch of InspireFest 2015
Niamh Scanlon at the launch of InspireFest 2015

Niamh Scanlon

What skills should young people learn? Reading, writing, maths and new languages are obvious answers. But I think there is something missing in that list: coding.

Every young person should have the chance to try coding, which means using computer programming to create. Why? Because, in the same way that learning a new language helps you think in new ways, learning coding makes you think differently.

Also, we all use things in our everyday lives that run on code, like our computer games and apps, social media and websites. But if you know how to code, you can do so much more than just use technology - you can create new things.

In the future, more and more jobs will involve people understanding or using code, so getting young people thinking about coding is really important. Plus, it's fun.

Start learning to code

But where do you start? If you are aged between 7 and 17, you could go to your local CoderDojo, which runs free classes that teach young people how to code and make websites, apps, games - and sometimes even working robots.

I have been going to CoderDojo at Dublin City University from the age of nine, and from the age of 10 I have been mentoring, or teaching, other young people how to code there too.

Because I know how to code, I can build websites and apps that can help people.

In 2014, I made my first app, reCharge My eCar. It will help people who use electric cars (ecars) find all the public charging points for cars in Ireland, and to see whether each one is currently in use or available.

At the moment, I'm also building a communications app that will help journalists, families, schools and companies. I have lots of other ideas too, and with coding your imagination is the limit.

Coding opens doors

Learning to code and being involved with CoderDojo has given me lots of opportunities, like speaking at the Web Summit and at the Royal Irish Academy, visiting Facebook and Twitter, spending a summer living in London learning about how to run a business at Outbox Incubator, taking part in a 'hackathon' (a day-long coding event) in Amsterdam, winning awards, appearing on the TV, writing articles - and lots more besides.

Learning to code has also helped me in so many other different ways too, especially solving maths puzzles. Sometimes you need to think in a few different ways to solve a maths puzzle, and coding has helped me do this without me really even noticing.

Girls get coding

When I started learning to code, there were not many girls in the CoderDojo sessions. But, thanks to great ideas like CoderDojo Girls in DCU and Girls Hack Ireland 'hackathons' (where girls get to build websites and robots, and use technology to make music and tell stories), I can see that more girls are trying it out.

This is really important, because there is a lack of women in technology and engineering, and sometimes coding can be seen as a 'boy thing' - but it's definitely not. If we get more girls interested in coding early on, then maybe more will study and work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).

Hour of Code

Not everyone has the time to learn coding, but everyone should at least get the chance to try it. So do Hour of Code this month, and it could start you thinking in new ways.

Niamh Scanlon is 13 years old and a mentor at CoderDojo DCU. Her work has won awards at Coolest Projects and Eir Junior Spiders, and she is a member of the Digital Youth Council. She is currently a finalist for EU Digital Girl of the Year.

Irish Independent

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