Festival of Code aims to help young hackers find jobs

The world’s biggest annual hack event has 1,200 young people across Britain hunched over their computer screens.

Symbolic photo for data protection, reflection of an eye and laptop in a computer hard drive on January 29, 2015 in Berlin, Germany [Getty]
The world’s largest annual hack event for young people is about preparing them to one day land an IT job [Getty Images]

Youth unemployment across Europe is running at 20 percent yet technology companies are struggling to fill jobs.

In an effort to address that imbalance, 1,200 young people across Britain and beyond are hunched over their computers this week participating in the Festival of Code.

The world’s largest annual hack event for young people is about preparing them to one day land a job in an IT department.

Fifteen young people, one a girl, one as young as 12, are pecking away at their laptops in the basement at the London offices of Ticketmaster.

They are all taking part in the Young Rewired State hackathon: coming up with an idea for an app, designing it and then presenting it this weekend in Birmingham, England.

You should be teaching them from when they’re 10 and ... teaching both girls and boys the same thing.

by Jessica Ebner-Statt, 13,

Ticketmaster and other technology companies are keen to take part as they struggle to fill jobs.

‘’Open positions (in technology) stay open longer,’’ said Gerry McDonnell, Ticketmaster’s senior vice president of technology.

‘’A lot of young coders find their way in the bedrooms and they maybe lose interest because they don’t find other like-minded young people to share their ideas with.

“So these type of events provide a great channel, a great platform to get together and share ideas and hopefully continue with their careers into coding because there is a great shortage,’’ McDonnell said.

There is no simple answer to why the jobs are vacant.

Some successful programmers prefer to work as independent consultants, giving them the freedom to work from home and on a variety of projects.

That’s what Stephen Mount, 21, decided to do after he won the Festival of Code in 2009 with an app that maps crime rates. He said it was often difficult for him to integrate into an office.

‘’A lot of developers do suffer from this, I do as well,” Mount said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to explain things, maybe you don’t have the concentration span that is needed to get the task done but it’s hard to tell the other person that, they just want the job done. Hackathons do improve your confidence and business skills,’’ said Mount, 21.

Jack Spence will carry on computing as a hobby, he’s on track to study law at Cambridge University.

He said the industry has some way to go to improve its image of a non-communicative, solitary programmer, bent over a screen at home.

“The expectation is that people are sitting on their own, that it is something boring just sitting down doing maths. But it’s not, it’s much more doing problem-solving,’’ said Spence, 18, who is working on an app to help monitor cloud cover for night sky watchers.

David Suleman-Waters, 12, is working on an app that tells you when the food in your fridge will go off. It sends a message to your phone before the mould has a chance to bloom and grow.

Organisers say a third of the young people in the festival this year are female but Jessica Ebner-Statt is the sole representative of her gender here.

The 13 year old is working on an app making travel easier for music lovers following their favourite bands on tour.

In Ebner-Statt’s group of friends there are a number of girls interested in computers, maths and engineering but she admits that may be an anomaly.

“They need to put more opportunities in schools and start people learning (coding) from the beginning because there is no point in teaching people when you’re 18,” said Ebner-Statt.

“You should be teaching them from when they’re 10 and when you’re teaching both girls and boys the same thing it gives them the equal opportunity for them to say ‘You know what, I am interested in this’.” 

The hackathon has 60 centres across the UK and remote centres in Kosovo, Switzerland and the US participating. Three hundred mentors are on hand to help with questions and presentation.

Source: Al Jazeera