Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Coder club turns out tween tech prodigies

An image from "My Little World," the latest game in development from Jordan Casey, a 13-year-old app developer from the Republic of Ireland. Casey released his first game, Alien Ball vs Humans, when he was 12. An image from "My Little World," the latest game in development from Jordan Casey, a 13-year-old app developer from the Republic of Ireland. Casey released his first game, Alien Ball vs Humans, when he was 12.
CoderDojo: a global code
CoderDojo: a global code
CoderDojo: a global code
CoderDojo: a global code
CoderDojo: a global code
CoderDojo: a global code
  • Developers as young as 12 are having success developing game apps
  • Many prodigious developers come out of the CoderDojo, a free coding club for kids
  • Started in Ireland two years ago, the non-profit has since spread to 22 countries
  • Two entrepreneurial Irish boys are the club's most high-profile success stories

London (CNN) -- They are a formidable new force in the tech world -- tween developers with world-class coding skills and firsthand insights into the games kids really want to play.

At the forefront of this wave of young developing talent are a couple of entrepreneurial Irish boys who have emerged from the CoderDojo, a volunteer movement to teach kids computer programming.

Since the first CoderDojo started up in Cork, Republic of Ireland two years ago, the free, not-for-profit coding clubs have spread to 180 locations in 22 countries.

Harry Moran was hailed as the world's youngest app developer in 2011 when, as a 12-year-old, he released his app "PizzaBot" -- a game where a pizza tries to eliminate salami slices from a kitchen.

One of the mentors took my mum aside and said: 'You've really got to let him have more time on the computer'
Harry Moran, teen software developer

He created the game as a class project at a CoderDojo, less than two months after he started learning to code. It became an instant and unexpected hit, shooting to the top of the UK/Ireland App Store chart, overtaking giants like Angry Birds on the way and also performing well in the U.S. and Australia.

"PizzaBot was an experiment really," Moran said. "I didn't want it to be successful, I just wanted to put an app up."

The secret of the game's success? "It's pizza and it's a robot," he ventures. "Maybe because it was kind of based on Space Invaders, people felt they could relate to it."

Opinion: Teach U.S. kids to write code

While he admits coding "is not for everyone," it felt like a natural fit for Moran, even though it was not a talent that had been strongly fostered at home.

Before he started at CoderDojo, his parents would only allow him 20 minutes of screen time a week.

"That's computers, PlayStation and TV put together," he says. "After I went to CoderDojo one of the mentors took my mum aside and said, 'You've really got to let him have more time on the computer.'"

Coding clubs growing worldwide Attracting the support of Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, says "every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code."

Code Club: A UK network which helps nine to 11-year-olds learn code. The aim is to have a code club in a quarter of UK primary schools by 2014.

Codeacademy: Run by "a team of hackers" offering free online computer programming lessons.

That extra time is now paying dividends, as Moran has followed up his hit game with a sequel called "PizzaBot Season(ing)s," and a new game -- "Robot Run!" -- about a quest to stop a rogue killer robot.

Read more: Demystifying cloud threats and firewalls

Moran credits his success to his affiliation with CoderDojo, co-founded by fellow Irishman James Whelton and Australian entrepreneur Bill Liao.

Whelton, 20, had run a computer club at his own school, and saw a huge demand for more resources to teach computer programming skills to young people.

After leaving high school, with Liao as an angel investor, Whelton launched CoderDojo, in which volunteers donate their time to teach code to 10-14 year olds. About 10,000 children have participated in the program.

Read/Watch: Gates, Zuckerberg: Kids, learn to code

Jordan Casey, a young software developer who also released an app game, "Alien Ball vs Humans," at the age of 12, is another CoderDojo success story.

Now aged 13, he has spoken at conferences in France, Germany, and India, while his company, Casey Games, has released an online multiplayer virtual world game called "Food World," and another called "Save the Day" to mark International Children's Day in Brazil.

Casey had already begun playing with code before he joined CoderDojo, and played a role in having a branch set up in his town.

"I think the best aspect of CoderDojo is the collaboration and social aspect," Casey says. "Most people when they think of programmers think of people in their room alone, curtains down ... Now, thanks to CoderDojo, people see it just like any other club."

Most people when they think of programmers think of people in their room alone, curtains down... Now, thanks to CoderDojo, people see it just like any other club
Jordan Casey, teen software developer

Read more: The smartphone app that maps your mental state

Young people had some distinct advantages when it comes to tech, said Whelton, in that they picked up coding much more quickly than adults. "It's a generational thing. They've grown up with this stuff around them, so it's quite instinctive," he says.

They also had an edge in terms of an instinctive understanding of what appealed to their age group.

"I think their biggest strength is their age. It's like they're covert agents among their peers."

Coding had the potential to empower young people, he says, particularly in struggling economies such as Ireland where unemployment is approaching 15%.

"There are still vacancies in tech though -- people can't get enough developers and technical talent," he said.

On a personal level, the clubs played an important role in helping to give young people confidence, a peer group of like-minded kids, and a sense of identity.

"When I was young, coding was my thing -- I wasn't into the academic thing or the sporting thing," said Whelton. "It was always a passion. It wasn't to do it to get a job, or make the new Facebook -- it was to have fun, to build apps and games."

I believe anybody can learn to code. Myself, I did quite poorly in maths in school
James Whelton, CoderDojo co-founder

But from an early age, he had an appreciation of the ways in which coding could have a more serious impact as well.

When he was 14, he came to the aid of his neighbor's nephew who had been diagnosed with a tumor behind his eye. Doctors in the U.S. needed to see a scan within a day but the inferior broadband quality of the time wouldn't allow for the scan to be sent.

Whelton stepped up by swiftly putting together a software app that allowed the doctors to view the scan over the Internet, allowing them to make a correct diagnosis and treatment plan and saving the child's life.

Read more: Heal thyself - the bio-inspired materials that self-repair

Anyone can learn to code, he says.

"Myself, I did quite poorly in maths in school. But in the context of coding it makes sense. It's more based around logic than it is around arithmetic."

The trick is to make lessons fun and relevant. "Instead of making a website for the sake of it, you should be making a website for the local football club."

The open source, workshop culture of the CoderDojo adds to its appeal by encouraging students to quickly become mentors themselves.

"If someone learns or creates something new," says 14-year-old Moran, "it's really easy for them to teach other people and share that thing."

In this way, the first generation of CoderDojo prodigies like Moran are already working to inspire the next.

"I've taught quite a few people Android app and web development, and I really enjoy doing that."

Part of complete coverage on
August 8, 2014 -- Updated 0939 GMT (1739 HKT)
Engineer Alan Bond has been developing a new concept for space travel for over 30 years -- and his creation is now on the verge of lift off.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
Crumbling buildings, burnt-out PCs, and cracked screens -- a new generation of "self-healing" technologies could soon consign them to history.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 0909 GMT (1709 HKT)
Discover a dancing cactus field, basketball on the Hudson River, and mind-bending 3D projections on robotic screens.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1707 GMT (0107 HKT)
Would you live there? Design student Peter Trimble says it's actually a surprisingly good idea.
May 14, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Alpha Sphere
Singing Tesla coils, musical ice cream, vegetables on drums... and this ball? Find out how "hackers" have created a new generation of instruments.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 1643 GMT (0043 HKT)
Technology has long learned from nature, but now it's going micro. "Cellular biomimicry" sees designers take inspiration from plant and animal cells.
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Forget wearable tech, embeddable implants are here. Learn more about the pioneers who are implanting devices into their bodies.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
A visitor of the 'NEXT Berlin' conference tries out Google Glass, a wearable computer that responds to voice commands and displays information before your eyes. It is expected to go to market in late 2013.
We know how wearable tech can enhance our fitness lives but there's evidence that its most significant application is yet to come: the workplace.
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 0813 GMT (1613 HKT)
Samsung's research unit announces new way to synthesize graphene, potentially opening the door to commercial production.
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
iRobot, creators of vacuuming robot Roomba reveal how they learned from secret experiments -- in space travel, minefields, and toys.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
A light-bulb glowing in middle of a room with no wires attached. "It's the future," says Dr Katie Hall.
March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
Knee replacements that encourage cells to regrow could soon be manufactured -- by spiders. Find out how.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Meet Chuck Hull: the humble American engineer who changed the world of manufacturing.
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
The key to self-knowledge? Or just the return of the phony "mood ring"? Check out our top mood-sensing technology in development.