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James Whelton of Coder Dojo Coder Dojo
Web Summit

Coder Dojo founder, aged 20, honoured at Web Summit

James Whelton has become the youngest ever social entrepreneur to be made a fellow of the Ashoka foundation.

THE 20-YEAR-OLD Irish founder of a group that helps young people learn computer coding skills has been honoured at the Dublin Web Summit today.

James Whelton, whose Coder Dojo organisation now has over 100 clubs run by volunteers all over the world, was today made the youngest Fellow ever of the Ashoka social entrepreneurs’ foundation.

Being a Fellow opens doors to Whelton to mentors and investors in the tech and social entrepreneurship work. The award also comes with a grant to expand the operations of Coder Dojo.

The announcement was made after Whelton spoke at the Web Summit, explaining how he had been coding since he was nine years of age. The Irish education system, however, did not in any way encourage his skills as a youngster, said Whelton. He said:

I was coding since I was nine but academically, I was pretty horrible. Stuff I was really good at wasn’t recognised anywhere on the curriculum. Teachers thought I was thick as wood but coding was my thing.

Whelton was speaking on a panel of impressive young web entrepreneurs this morning at the conference in the RDS. Sujay Tyle, the VP of Development at mobile-social gaming platform Scopely, start coding at the age of 10, had patented biofuels at age 13, entered Harvard at 15 and dropped out two years later to start his company. (He’s now just 19 years old). Pep Gomez, CEO of mobile socialising tool FeverUp at the age of just 19, completed the panel.

Whelton said that being young was actually an advantage in some ways in trying to start up an organisation in that people and experts tended to be more generous with their time. Tyle also said that younger people were being respected in Silicon Valley and the tech world in general where 15 years ago, the might have been “laughed at”.

Mentors and inspiring role models were also a help with Whelton pointing out that the Coder Dojo educational clubs were run by volunteers. “It’s all free,” he said, “so the atmosphere in there is very passionate because people really want to do it. Kids hack away at their projects and then go home and get their siblings, their friends or kids in their class to try out their games or their apps”.

To show how Coder Dojo is changing children’s lives, he introduced the audience to four of its students, including 13-year-old Harry Moran whose Pizzabot game topped the iPhone paid download charts, beating gaming phenomenon Angry Birds when it first launched.

Whelton said that Coder Dojo would continue to be his “primary focus for a long time” with clubs opening as far afield as China. (Although he did joke he might have to step back at an appropriate time and “start my professional skateboarding career”.)

If you think you couldn’t be any more impressed Whelton, try watching his TedX talk from last December:

via TedxTalks/Youtube

Column by James Whelton: How my computer club turned into a worldwide movement>
Read: Meet the world’s youngest app developer – and he’s Irish>
Read: Europe’s largest technology conference to begin in the RDS today>

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