Memories of Slane – #dojocon

Wow, its been a week since #dojocon, and the reports are still coming in of revelations and friendships that where formed at the event. From the surprise skype call to sing happy birthday for Los Angeles Mentor Una Fox; to the hackerspace stand soldering tiny LED buttons which caught attention throughout the day. And to think that this is all a voluntary collaboration is quite incredible.

The first #dojocon, took place less than a year ago in the Limerick Institute of Technology. Immediately after there was discussion in the community about doing a second conference to follow on the first’s success and continue to build the community, perhaps this time it could be further up the country to make it more accessible to other regions. This idea crystalised in a small committee of CoderDojo mentors who even with their busy lives, families, own Dojo’s and work; still found time to begin planning a magnificent event.

It was an overcast day several weeks before #dojocon2013 as several cars pulled up to the grand frontage of Slane Castle. Sitting beside CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton I had to pinch myself at the sight of this huge castle which would shortly be our venue. Of course James could not resist the temptation to stand on the Castle steps strumming some chords, and subsequently claim that he had “played” Slane Castle. After a short tour of the castle with the team we did not have to wait long as Lord Henry himself sped up and welcomed us to his humble abode. This ancient castle older than the United States of America seemed oddly juxtaposed to our modern technological aims, something Lord Henry himself pointed out in his closing speech (along with his UFO experience, living with Bono and salacious stories of the Castle)!

Slane Castle did not come without its challenges, despite its apparent size we quickly filled the seating capacity of the grand Ballroom; and the thick walls of the castle meant wifi was difficult (even after meters of cat5 cable had been installed by an intrepid Limerick Mentor Eugene Mcdonough). Despite the technical challenges, the sense of history combining with the modern, elevated the energy so that it was palpable in every room. The spirit of the movement flowed through the entire event and by the end, led to many a teary eye and raised goosebump of excitement.

On the first night the busy bar went silent as CoderDojo co-founder Bill Liao stepped up and opened his speech describing a fantastic (and possibly terrififying) world where children can – right now – program genetic sequences and pay a chinese company to produce the DNA which can then be grown in live cultures of bacteria; all to produce either a cure for cancer, solve world hunger, or make the worlds greatest super virus. The message is: this technology is already here, there is no point arguing over whether we should allow it or not; it’s time to teach our children values, empathy, and understanding so they use it for the benefit of society and not any alternative. As Bill left the stage, I was left with the heavy hand of responsibility placed on all of us who have taken up the mantle of CoderDojo mentorship to show our children a good way to live in a technological society. As just one of many speeches

The next morning a train of cars made the journey to the castle where CoderDojo co-founder James Whelton introduced a new initiative. The ‘Hello World Foundation’ is now working to support the CoderDojo website as part of a wider initiative to inspire young coders. As a member of this small team I am humbled by the awesomness of the CoderDojo community and hope I can give back something of value. In his speech James spoke of a world where Coding skills permeated every industry and allowed a better society. I want to be part of that.

Throughout the day brilliant workshops took place concurrently in three ‘streams’, too late I thought to suggest that the workshops be labelled ‘eddies’ in the stream. The schedule was so packed with discussion, thought and information it is impossible for any one person (or blog post) to capture it all. Needless to say everyone took a goody bag of food for thought home with them. Of particular note however, was one of the final speeches made by Kimberly Bryant founder of another initiative ‘Black girls who code’. Made with humility and understatement, Kimberly described her own story as a black woman who has had great success as an engineer but also how black girls particularly in poor neighbourhoods are triply disadvantaged in the tech community, held back by a culture which does not encourage coding. Most importantly Kimberly implored all the ‘young coding initiatives’ to burst their bubbles and work together on this shared issue of inspiring young coders.

By the time that was all over everyone was exhausted, happy to munch on the box loads of pizza delivered by the generosity of Domino’s and muse on the day behind them. Those merry few who stayed behind at the castle after the final speech and thankyou where rewarded by a bit of rock out from ‘the enemies’, and once the small crowd got going on the dance floor there was no stopping them; I just hope no one had a video camera.

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