Social Innovator

Conor Begley

Hi, my name is Conor Begley and I am seventeen years old. I live in Co. Louth and go to DkIT CoderDojo in Dundalk. I’m in 5th year at Colaiste Rís, which is also in Dundalk.  Besides having an obvious interest in computers and electronics, I enjoy being a Venture-Scout and playing tennis (though I’m not very good!).

What do you love about coding?

Hmmm… What’s not to love? I really like the endless possibilities there is with computer coding. You have the capabilities to make a game, a complex database, an application or a tool. You can make computers and robots do and help with whatever you want. There is a great sense of pride and joy when you finally compile a successful build and see your project take off.  I also love that it’s a great exercise in logic. It’s very straightforward and always makes sense. It’s really rewarding when you figure a problem out.

What got you interested in coding / CoderDojo?

Well, it was kind of an accident. About three years ago, my local hurling team wasn’t doing so well and it was kind of falling apart.  I decided to quit. Normally I played hurling on Saturday and well, now I had nothing to do. By chance, my mother heard about CoderDojo that was conveniently on during Saturday. She decided to drag my sister and I up to the Dojo in Newry and from there I haven’t looked back.

Do you attend / mentor at a CoderDojo?

Yes, I do mentor at a CoderDojo in DkIT in Dundalk. I used to attend both Newry CoderDojo and Dundalk CoderDojo as a Ninja and eventually built up enough skills and experience to start mentoring other Ninjas. I currently am mentoring in the Python/Java room in the Dundalk CoderDojo.

What’s your favourite coding language?

Wow, that’s a tough question… I’m going to have to go with Java. After all, three billion devices do run on it. I just think it’s great especially with a great IDE like Eclipse (sorry Netbeans 😉 ) You can write great text based programs and games but also fantastic programs and games with a GUI. You can write android apps with ease with Java. It really is a versatile language. You can even mod Minecraft with Java. What’s not to like?

Tell us a little about your experience creating projects with code.

I just love creating projects with code. I’ve made a wide array of projects. There’s been everything from making programs to help with my maths homework to making Android apps for TY projects to my current Quick Com project. I’ve also made both text and graphic based games. I really just like making any projects I can think of. I also use loads of different languages from Python to Java to Visual C#. There is very little more rewarding then when you make a successful program

Tell us about your entry this year.

I have never entered Coolest Projects before. From what I have heard it is a fantastic competition. Not only is there unbelievable projects on display, but there are great talks throughout the day also 🙂 I’m really looking forward to going this year! So, my project is called Quick Com – A Communication for the Physically Disabled. It is inspired by my Aunt Fiona. Fiona has severe cerebral palsy and is wheelchair bound. She is unable to speak but she has slight movement in her forehead and eyebrows. Using these movements as a means of binary input, I have built a communication aid that allows her to communicate full sentences and phrases. The system is built using sensors, a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino board. The program was written in Python (I wasn’t a big Java fan then :-p) The program is based on sections of the alphabet and also features voice synthesis. There are also other features such as pre-programmed phrases and numbers. I hope to included television control, e-book reading and internet browsing as well as environment control.

What advice would you give to young people about learning to code?

Go to CoderDojo!!! Read tutorials online! Read books. And most importantly practice, practice, practice! Go for every opportunity you can get. Technology is becoming more and more a part of everyone’s lives. You really can’t avoid it. Even if you aren’t thinking of a future career in technology, having knowledge of computers and programming languages is going to prove invaluable. It’s a life skill you have got to learn.

Do you have any advice for any girls who might be intimidated to start coding?

Really go for it. Ignore all that stigma and ideas that coding is just for boys because quite frankly it’s wrong. I’ve had a lot of experience in not just computers but also STEM and the girls are certainly just as good as the guys. Sometimes, they’re even better. There are brilliant opportunities out there and it’s a shame that some girls are missing out on them. If they’re worried about guys being intimidating, honestly they’re in the same boat as the girls and they might even find the girls intimidating. Even at that, there are some great girls only CoderDojo events the girls can go to, such as CoderDojo Girls and resources online that girls can use to get familiar with coding before going to a mixed class. Whether they go to a mixed CoderDojo or not, it’d be a real shame to pass up computer programming just because you’re a little intimidated.

Just go for it! You never know, you might just surprise yourself.