With hundreds of self-taught young coders from across the UK hacking away, Emma Mulqueeny had her work cut out at the Festival of Code last week.
The festival, organised by Young Rewired State (YRS), ran from 28 July to 3 August, with the aim of helping under-19s to create websites, prototypes and inventive applications.
During the weekend event, young participants from across the UK were able to present their designs to a panel of judges and meet their fellow coders.
Emma Mulqueeny, founder and CEO of Young Rewired State, told Computer Weekly: “I have written a lot about the 97ers – kids who were born in 1997 or after. These are the kids that are using YRS. They are social media and digital natives. They have online friends in other countries, they know about social responsibility – this is all they’ve ever known.
“The 97ers are finding that the best and safest route is to leave school and employ yourself and each other. They are far more aware of the challenges out there. Any barriers that were there before have now gone. Instead of thinking, 'I’ll go and work at a corporate', they are thinking, 'I’ll just do it myself'. They have been exposed to much more of the world than the digital natives.”
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Mulqueeny came from a background of learning maths and programming for fun, with a father who was a computer scientist. By 2009, she had been working as an adviser to the UK government for nearly 10 years and found that conversations always led to open data and transparency.
So she decided to organise National Hack the Government Day, when websites, apps and gadgets were built using as much government data as possible. At the end of the day, fears surrounding open data had disappeared and a month later, data.gov.uk was born.
After that, the government asked Mulqueeny to run hack days for it, but she noticed the lack of people aged under 25 attending. So, in August 2009, she ran a weekend event called Young Rewired State – and the rest is history.
Members of YRS are now looking for more than just learning about code, said Mulqueeny. “At YRS, the kids are more interested in the business side of things now, not just learning to code, but where to take it afterwards.”
This year's Festival of Code was supported by Google, American Express, the University of Plymouth, TalkTalk, Plymouth council and the Met Office, among others.
Student Harry Rickards, who has been part of the YRS community for several years, said: “My first year was 2010, when the festival was a lot smaller, but it was just so amazing that I kept coming back every year. The thing I got the most out of was the community – you can work on programming on your own with open-source projects, but with YRS you're able to connect to other people, their experience and what they're doing.”
Rickards is about to head to Boston to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and added: “I'm going to be studying maths or electrical eng, but I'm not sure yet.
“YRS helped direct me, through learning alongside the amazing people that were there. Being able to interact with other people and see what they're doing let me see them as role models as well. Just try to make the most of it all. The festival is only a week and when it's over, you'll be wishing it had gone on longer.”