Tuesday 10 December 2019

Mary Moloney, Global CEO of CoderDojo: Some say that if it’s a tech firm, all about being virtual, why do I need to travel? Nothing beats a conversation

Mary Moloney is the Global CEO of CoderDojo, a Global network of programming clubs for young people. From Wexford, she lives in Sandymount, Dublin, with her husband, John Moloney, and their sons, Jamie (11) and nine-year-old Zach

Mary Moloney, global CEO of CoderDojo. Photo: David Conachy.
Mary Moloney, global CEO of CoderDojo. Photo: David Conachy.

Ciara Dwyer

I wake up at 7.30am. The very first thing I do, after opening my eyes, is pick up the phone. This is probably the worst thing to do, and if I was advising people on how to work, I would say that they shouldn't do as I do. But I need to do this, because CoderDojo is in 63 different countries and everyone is in different time zones. I'm the global CEO. I need to know that everything is OK. Somebody might need something urgently. Everything is multi-channel now, so I do a clean sweep of email, Twitter, Linkedln and Facebook. Then it's a very quick turnaround to get out of the house.

My husband, John, is a writer, and he works from home. He writes books, but mainly he's written TV stuff to date. We met in college, when I was studying law at Trinity. I usually have a chat with the boys over breakfast. We have two sons - Zach and Jamie. If I'm going out the door at the same time as them, I'll drop them off, but Jamie likes to walk to school with his friend. The school is very close. Sandymount is great, and it's safe. There's a nice community feel to it, and lots of the mums know each other. I love that it feels like it's our little village, but it's still only 10 minutes away from Grafton Street.

At least once a fortnight, I travel for work, but if I'm in Dublin, I usually arrive into work around 9am. I work in the CHQ building. CoderDojo is in Dogpatch Labs there. They host us free of charge. CoderDojo was founded in 2011 by James Whelton, who is from Cork, and entrepreneur Bill Liao. James was 18 when he came up with the concept of kids learning to code with mentors. He had started a computer coding club in his school, and then he was introduced to Bill. The idea was that if you get kids together in a club-based, fun environment, they'll learn very quickly together and help each other.

Also, they'll build lots of other skills which aren't specifically tech skills, such as leadership and presentation. It's entirely free, and it's run by volunteers. 'Dojo' means 'temple of learning'.

Most of our Dojos are hosted by businesses, but some are in schools. The classes aren't mandatory, and the kids can drop in and out of them, and go at their own pace. They learn how to build websites and apps. The idea is that they come because they want to be there, not because their mother made them. That creates the buzz. We recommend that the best age to start is seven. There are 890 Dojos around the world, even in places like Uzbekistan, Madagascar and Istanbul. And to think that it all started in Cork. I'm very ambitious for it. Since we've started, I've doubled the number of countries, and we've multiplied by four the number of clubs we have for kids. That's what excites me. Every week, we've got 45,000 kids doing it, and, to date, 80,000 kids have participated.

My first introduction to CoderDojo was when my son, Jamie, was seven. He seemed to be constantly trying to get onto an Xbox or a Nintendo DS. He had a great aptitude for technology and was fascinated by it, but then I realised that he was just passively consuming it. Children can turn into little monsters if they are over-stimulated like that.

I thought that it'd be better if we could work out a way for him to create games instead. I worked at Accenture for over 20 years, and they had a 'bring your kids to work' day. Somebody was running a CoderDojo session there. I brought the boys. They started to learn about logic and moving things around a screen. Within a few minutes, they were building things and creating stuff. They got so much fun out of it. We brought Jamie to Dojo in Trinity, but when it started to clash with sports, I set up a Dojo in the local school in Sandymount.

Now I spend my working day trying to figure out how do we continue to reach as many children in the world as we possibly can, so that they have the opportunities to develop these skills, which are fundamental to pretty much every job. Some kids who go to Dojos will end up working in technology, but others find out that it's not for them. That's fine, too. At least they've dipped in and tried it. And it's far better that they discover this early on, than go on to drop out of computer-science courses in university, years later. The drop-out rate at third level is horrendous.

I spend my day engaging with people all over the world, and giving talks about the benefits of CoderDojo. One child told me he loves it because nobody can see his wheelchair while he does it. Another mother wrote to me and told me that her son, who has autism and is seven, made his first friend at CoderDojo because he could sit on a beanbag, find a space, be quiet and perform well.

As we are a global organisation, I travel a lot too. Some people say that, if it's a technology organisation and all about being virtual, can I not just sit in my Dublin office and manage it? But, actually, in terms of building a true relationship, there is no substitute for sitting down with somebody and having a conversation. I like to do this over a meal, or coffee.

A lot of my time is spent getting large organisations to help CoderDojo get involved in a community. I ask them to support it by giving hardware and software free, and by opening up their office facilities for kids. I could be in Lithuania or Davos. It's all about a network.

If I'm working in Dublin and not going to a networking talk, I get home around 5.30pm. I make dinner with the kids. Jamie is into music production. He taught himself to play the guitar with videos from YouTube. Often, he'll have a Spotify folder of music for me and Zach, and I will dance around the kitchen to it.

I enjoy that time with the kids and I need it, because, when I'm away, Skype is never the same. When they settle down and go to bed, I go back online. I also try to have a weekly night out with friends. We usually go to a gig.

See coderdojo.com


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