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Award-winning young coders inspired to build the future



The "Festival of Code", a national event aimed at encouraging young people to make software, recently brought together more than 1,000 coders aged 19 or under (see "Local authority street app among winners at Festival of Code"). The event was organised by non-profit organisation Young Rewired State. "Best in Show" award was won by YouDraw, a crowd-sourced video animation platform which allows users to submit a YouTube video for animating by community members, who are given random frames to draw. The platform was developed by Niklas Vengeow (16); Guy McClenahan (16); James McQueen (12); Bobby Dilley (17); and Matthew Lewis (17). Here, the young coders talk to about their inspiration; why more young people should code; and their plans for the future.

- What gave you the idea for YouDraw?

The Team: It took us quite some time to decide on an idea [that] the whole group could get behind. Most of our ideas contained elements of collaboration between users, a component we later made the focus of our project. After a basic plan establishing the core concepts that we wanted our project to incorporate we took to the internet to seek further inspiration. Guy stumbled upon The Johnny Cash Project ( which was a pertinent implementation for the basic concepts that we had envisioned. Inspired by this, we set out to create a platform where anyone could create an animated version of a YouTube video, using open data provided by YouTube.

- What kind of coding skills do you have, and how did you acquire them?

Guy McClenahan: I acquired all of my web design skills through Young Rewired State (YRS). The mentors at the Portsmouth and Reading centres, and the other YRSers, have taught me everything I know, and that is why I believe that YRS is such an important programme for young coders.

Bobby Dilley: I have a few years of experience with languages such as PHP, CSS and HTML as well as C++, Python, Actionscript and my first language Visual Basic, and some skill in design work from previous websites I have made for small companies. Coming from a background with both parents in the IT field I have been able to learn how to develop applications, while Young Rewired State has really bought my interest further and helped me to connect with other young programmers.

Niklas Vangerow: I have a couple of years of experience in Java and C++ which has allowed me to pick up other languages such as Python, Dart, TurboPascal, Swift, and various others in recent years. When I get asked how I managed to acquire these skills, the honest answer is: practice. If you're an aspiring programmer: take every opportunity you can get to learn, make new contacts or collaborate with people.

James McQueen: I learnt basic HTML from the free online service Codecademy, and from there Josh introduced me to programming languages, most notably Python and Go. These skills provided a foundation stone for me to learn a number of other languages such as Javascript, which I used in the YouDraw project to create the drawing canvas for the user to trace over the frame with.

- What made you want to go into coding?

Guy McClenahan: I was inspired by the work young people are doing in the industry today, and wanted to get involved. My dad taught me VBA, but I really wanted to code for the web where I can show people what I have made more easily, solve problems and make a difference. So I came to YRS, where I was taught my skills by the mentors here.

Bobby Dilley: My main inspiration for learning to code was my father: he used to talk so confidently about how everything worked and how everything was programmed and made me want to understand it just like he did. I used to look at TVs and washing machines and other appliances and wonder what was really going on inside, and so decided to learn about how computers were programmed.

Niklas Vangerow: I think it all started in 2009. A friend of mine got hold of a program that took a screenshot, displayed it, and then allowed one to place destructive elements on it to make it appear like termites were in your monitor or that it had a crack. After looking up how to exactly create this "virus" I came to the conclusion that I needed Batch and slowly learnt [it] by looking at examples on YouTube, around the web and experimenting. [However] Batch had severe limitations and I wasn't sure how to learn anything more complex, until I found out my secondary school hosted a computer programming club after school. This club involved learning HTML and JavaScript to the degree where it was possible to create small games. Later that year (2010) I started learning Java in order to create modifications for a game I had just started playing: Minecraft. After this came C++, lots of personal projects, contracting and three years of Young Rewired State.

James McQueen: Josh introduced me to YRS at school during various technology clubs, as almost nobody else in the school was interested in programming. I was inspired to begin coding in order to participate in YRS, and from there, I've kept on learning.

- Why do you think many young people uninterested in coding, and what could be done to change this?

The Team: It's not that young people are not interested in coding, but rather that the government and schools in general haven't done much to show them the possibilities. Coding can be very difficult at times and therefore people who either don't have the time or patience usually don't get very far. If coding was more prevalent in education and introduced at an early age, young people would have the time and support to become accustomed to the technology, making it far easier to see the value it brings as a skill.

- How do you see your careers developing?

Bobby Dilley: I am currently in college studying Computer Science along with three other subjects and have just received my AS results and achieved 95% (A grade) in the Computing exam which I am very pleased about. I would ideally like to attend Birmingham University and study Computer Science, and continue with a career in Embedded Computing, or UX/UI design.

Guy McClenahan: I'm only just entering college, so I couldn't possibly say! All I know is that'll keep my eyes open for opportunities, and stay involved with YRS and YouDraw.

Niklas Vangerow: As a person interested in a career in the software industry I constantly develop my skills further by learning about new technologies that I find interesting or useful. Of course I'm only just starting with college, but the courses I've chosen will hopefully help me pursue a career in the games industry later on.

James McQueen: Before I start my career, I have to go through four years of secondary school! I personally would like to move into a career heavily utilising IT skills, such as programming, but not necessarily in the IT industry. For example, generating certain models and simulations for a scientific career.

- Where do you hope YouDraw will go now?

The Team: We are currently in talks with companies which should hopefully help us to relaunch YouDraw in the coming months. Keep your ear to the ground for information through our Twitter account: @TeamYouDraw.

Pictured: The YouDraw team receive their award from Festival of Code judge Bill Liao of CoderDojo (right).
Young Rewired State:
Festival of Code:

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