We are always hearing about the struggle in the software industry to recruit talented and diverse programmers. But what’s being done to change this for future generations?
One initiative that has been set up in Auckland by MIT is JHack. JHack is a programme to introduce school kids to programming concepts through the world of Minecraft. It matches school students with industry mentors for a month of learning. The whole event culminates in a junior hackathon during the first weekend in July. Using the coding skills they had honed for a month, 120 kids created their own worlds in Minecraft.
Damen Hansen, a Development Team Lead in our Auckland office, was one of several Xero mentors for JHack.
If you’re thinking about mentoring, or want to introduce your children to coding, read about Damen’s experience and get involved!
*Note: No zombies were harmed in the making of this blog.
One of the most valuable and amusing things I realised from this is that little people have the exact same problems as big people.
Yes! Kids are just small humans!
Challenges arise when there are gaps in communication, team agreements come out of good facilitation, and success comes out of good planning and working together. These were some of the lessons my team of intrepid hackers “The Bombay Miners” learned. Three 11 year old boys that were keen on showing the older kids that they could hack it with the best of them.
The run up to the hackathon involved using a web application called LearnToMod. This is an achievement based learn-to-code program that teaches you programming concepts using a visual programming language called Blockly.
Participants earn ‘badges’ as they go through the various programming constructs. Once the boys realised they could achieve the best results by working together, the badge count mounted. They were selected as one of the top 40 teams to attend the final event.
The final Hackathon day was held in the amazing new MIT campus in Manukau. It’s an inspiring creative space with lots of computer labs, large screens throughout, breakout spaces and even a cafe. One hundred and twenty kids gathered in groups of three with team names like “Venomous Salmon”, “BumbleMarshDonuts_Modz” and “Zombiecorns”. The buzz and excitement amongst the competitors made for a really electric atmosphere.
The hackathon was made up of two challenges. The first was all about setting up the environment to ensure everyone was on a level playing field. that all kids could log in to the competition “world” for their team, and that they could share their code (mods) between team members in this world. They also had to do the planning for the second challenge. Teams were marked on their ability to plan together as a team and allocate tasks to each other, playing to each team member’s strengths to determine who would code each requirement.
The second challenge allowed teams to give life to their creations. New worlds sprung up in Minecraft with lava moats, floating islands, dungeons, castles and even traps for the judges! It made for an entertaining show and tell with parents who came to view in the afternoon.
It’s a bit cliche, but everyone really was a winner on the day. Learning to use your imagination to bring things to life with code is a skill that they can keep on tuning throughout their lives.
Being a mentor is extremely rewarding. You don’t need any special super powers to do it. You just need to show up with some energy and enthusiasm and encourage the kids to give it their all. Those “ah-ha” moments are the best.
As technology plays a bigger part in society, programming will become a more valuable language to learn. It’s never too late to get involved. There are lots of online tools to help you and your kids along the way to your own “ah-ha” moments.
(A special thanks to our photographer, Mike Reid, who came out and spent the day with us to capture the action.)