Niamh so tell us, what first attracted you to technology? When did you even realise what coding was?
I started learning to code when I was nine years old. My Mum heard about this thing called CoderDojo starting at Dublin City University and she brought me along. CoderDojo runs free classes for people aged 7 to 17 who want to learn to code, and on that first day I learned how to make a simple web page with HTML.
I was really amazed that I could change how a web page looked by typing in lines of code, and that I could make my own designs. Before that I hadn’t known at all what went on ‘behind the scenes’ in websites, and now I was designing one! That ability to create is what really amazed me and I just kept going, learning about new ways to make websites, games and apps.
Tell us about CoderDojo and how you got involved?
That class in DCU when I was nine was my first experience of CoderDojo. It’s a community where young people learn to code in classes with the help of mentors who volunteer their time so it is all free. It started in Cork a few years ago and now it is all over the world, with more than 1000 Dojos!
When I started, I spent the first while learning to code and then, when I was 10, I became a mentor at CoderDojo in DCU. I really like being able to help people get over a problem with their code, or explain how to change how something looks on the screen, and I learn a lot through mentoring.
What surprised you the most about technology?
That you can be so creative with it. And it’s not just building websites and apps, I love going to hackathons and learning how to make robots work or make clothes that light up. It’s all about imagination.
Do many of your school friends share your interest in learning how to code?
Not so much, but I did run a lunchtime coding class in my school this year which was fun!
Niamh you are one super busy 13 year old! You are often invited to big tech conferences around the world, showcasing your app, being a keynote inspiring speaker and also a CoderDojo mentor! How do you manage your time?
This year has been really busy, because I have been doing schoolwork as well as speaking at conferences and building an app and mentoring at CoderDojo. Plus GAA and piano and hockey! So yes, sometimes I can feel a bit tired, but when you go and give a talk it gives you a lot of energy.
We would love to hear your summer plans? Anything exciting planned?
I’m excited about some work I am doing with RTE this summer. I won’t give away too much but hopefully it will be out in the autumn.
Which female role model inspires you the most?
There are so many girls and women around who inspire me – the mentors in CoderDojo are great, including Catrina Carrigan and Vanessa Greene who run the Scratch class. They were also over at Outbox Incubator in London with me last year.
That was fun, I stayed in a house for three weeks with other young women who are interested in tech and we learned a lot about running a business and communicating. There were about 50 people staying in the house at any one time!
Mary Carty was one of the organisers and there were really inspiring teenagers there from Ireland, including Ciara Judge and Emer Hickey from Cork who won the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and the Google Science Fair and Edel Browne, who also won at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.
What has been your favourite tech event to date and why?
That’s a really hard question! I have really enjoyed every tech event I have been to! I especially like going to Coolest Projects though, because you can see what all the other young people in CoderDojo have made and I’m always blown away by the ideas and the skills they have.
What would you like to be when you grow up?
I haven’t thought too much about it, but I think I would like to run a tech business. In a way though, I think for people my age it is more about what we will do when we grow up rather than what we will be. That is why it is really important for young people to have the chance to learn to code and be comfortable with technology. Even if you don’t go on and work directly in technology, it is good to have lots of different skills.
We know over the last few months you have been working hard on building your new app called Auto-Journalist! Are you excited to showcase your project at Coolest projects on Saturday?
Yes very excited! This is my 4th year to take part in Coolest Projects and every year it gets bigger and there is so much to see!
How can we encourage more girls into coding?
I think it’s important that girls can find out about coding with their friends. When I started CoderDojo at DCU it was mostly boys, but then they set up a class especially for girls. That meant girls came along with their friends and got more confident in coding. Also, for all kids I think it helps to find something they are interested in and show them how coding can make it even better. My younger brother loves Minecraft, and when I showed him the Hour of Code for Minecraft on code.org he got straight into it!
Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us more about you. We are sure all our readers will have enjoyed getting to know you and your incredible journey so far. You’re story is so inspiring. We can’t wait to see whats next for you!
Follow Niamh’s journey to big success and the opportunities technology brings her on Twitter (@niamhscanlonirl)