Walking into a room filled with 15-year-old boys concentrating intently on their computer screens is hardly an uncommon sight – but on this occasion it was programming rather than gaming that was occupying all of their attention. They were being put through their paces by London-based social enterprise Freeformers at a one-day coding workshop hosted by Deutsche Telekom‘s new innovation space in Charlottenburg.
It was a wonderful opportunity for the boys to learn the kind of skills they will need when they enter a rapidly-changing job market in a few years time. And learn they certainly did, with all the teens able to create an app from scratch by the end of the day.
None of the nine pupils from the Berlin International School had any experience with coding when they turned up on Thursday. They began their morning by creating a website with Facebook integration, YouTube videos, styling and Facebook likes and comments under the tutelage of Freeformers instructors Max Bye and Alice Brennan.
Afterwards they learnt how to access their Facebook data before taking on the big one – creating an app. This they managed using a framework called My Geekiest Friend, which reveals which five of your friends joined Facebook first.
It took just over an hour for the boys got to grips with the basics of HTML and CSS – impressive stuff. It’s more than possible that at least one future career in programming was set in place at the event. But Freeformers’ main aim is not to create professional developers, but rather to provide ordinary people with a greater technical understanding, such as the ability and the knowledge to create an app.
Freeformers was founded last year by Gi Fernando and Cassandra Harris, who both invested their own money into the project. Since then it has been teaching high-impact tech skills, and for every workshop a business undertakes, it puts on a free workshop for younger, less advantaged people.
Most of the Freeformers teachers have not come from a tech background, but they do represent a wide cross section of people – philosophers, archaeology students and pupils who did not complete their GCSEs. This makes it easier for them to teach the basics in a more understandable language. They usually deal with groups from the age of 18-30 who have fallen through the system.
Alice said: “It’s about diversifying tech and getting people into it that wouldn’t normally be, and so they come up with really interesting ideas. They address issues that wouldn’t normally be addressed.”
Berlin was chosen for the project because of its budding tech and startup scenes and because of the city’s high youth unemployment. Freeformers aims to hold more similar events in Berlin in the future, and possibly even set up a hub here.
Deutsche Telekom’s Ilya Levtov said: “To launch this space we wanted to organise a hackathon and the first person I reached out to was Gi. We wanted to put the two things together – freeformers coding session and the DT Evernote hackathon.”