Best In Class: Our Pick of Northern Ireland’s Tech Educators #2

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  • With technology developing at an ever faster pace - and the flow of new tech skills critical to our economy - the role that tech educators play in Northern Ireland has never been more important. 

    Over this, and subsequent weeks we would like to celebrate (in no particular order) some of our tech educators...

    Claire Burn (Women Who Code)

    Claire created the original Youth Outreach programme for Women Who Code Belfast which was presented to two schools in Londonderry at CultureTech in 2015, and to a variety of schools in 2016. She also runs beginner coding workshops under the Women Techmakers Belfast banner, and has been an Instructor and a Lead Instructor on the Code First:Girls Web Development and Python courses. Whilst at university, Claire was also a Java, Networking and Computer Architecture demonstrator and a Peer Mentor, helping other students to grasp difficult technology concepts. During her time as a Peer Mentor, she also organised a Windows and Android App Hackathon for all students in the EEECS School, which was in part sponsored by Kainos. For the past two years, Claire has organised the Women Techmakers Belfast conference which aims to highlight the technical achievements of women within the STEM industry. 


    What made you want to get involved with tech education?

    I want to share what I’d learned with others! Everyone seems so apprehensive of technology: when I would ask my friends why they hadn’t looked at learning to code before, they would answer “oh, it’s not my thing, it’s too hard”. Well, what if it’s not too hard? I want to give people the opportunity to try their hand at coding and technology, to see if they just might find a hidden talent that they hadn’t considered before.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    My current job is at Rapid7, where I am a software engineer. I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of coding, and the fact that much of my job is actually very people-oriented. It’s always very satisfying to be able to see something that you’ve built being run in production, and actually having an effect in the daily running of the company you work for.

    What are the challenges you face?

    One of the biggest is getting people to commit to coming to meetups! There is a massive drop-out rate in Belfast for meetups and it’s probably because there are just so many! It’s absolutely fantastic that there are so many though, and I know it’s been a problem for all meetup organisers. There have been a number of interesting suggestions recently about how to get around this, and I think we’ll be implementing some of them soon.

    What’s in store for the future of WWC?

    Hopefully we’ll continue to grow and help the Belfast Tech Community thrive! We have lots of great events coming up on the run-up to Christmas, including a ReactJS Native Workshop, which the BBC are coming to record a radio show at!

    Claire Burn: @RhythmOfRiora
    Women Who Code Belfast: @WWCBelfast
    Women Who Code meetup page:


    Rosa Langhammer (CoderDojo)

    Rosa leads the operations and impact reporting area for the global CoderDojo Foundation based in Dublin, and mentors at her local Dojo fortnightly. CoderDojo is a network of free coding clubs for young people. There are currently over 1,500 CoderDojo clubs in 75+ countries worldwide, including over 15 running in Northern Ireland.


    What made you want to get involved with tech education?

    From a young age, I was always taking things apart and fixing our household appliances. One of my earliest (and proudest) projects as a teenager was creating a bookstand from scratch which triggered LED lights when a children’s book was placed on it. As our society becomes more technology driven than it was when I was a teenager, I believe that all young people need to have the opportunity to become creators, not just consumers, of technology.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    What I most enjoy about both running a (Coder)Dojo and visiting lots of Dojos around the world is seeing the passion, ideas and confidence of young people who attend. The Dojo environment puts creativity and teamwork at the forefront of the learning experience. This gives it an amazing atmosphere and buzz when young people make a breakthrough or see their ideas come to life.

    What are the challenges you face?

    Many Dojos globally find it difficult to bring on new volunteers. Volunteering is easy. You don’t require technical skills to help out at a Dojo, just show up and assist where you can. Often it’s best when volunteers don’t know all the answers; it encourages young people to find solutions to issues they encounter, support each other and develop resilience. However, it is important to always be enthusiastic and open to working alongside a young person to find out what the solution to their problem could be!

    What’s in store for the future of CoderDojo?

    The CoderDojo Foundation has recently joined forces with the Raspberry Pi Foundation and together we aim to open 5,000 Dojos by 2020 around the world so that even more children can have the opportunity to learn to be creative with technology. We need enthusiastic people to start their own clubs in areas where Dojos don’t exist and even where they do, as lots of young people always want to join. Enable young people in your local area to access coding skills for free, join the revolution and start a Dojo today.

    Rosa Langhammer: @RosaLanghammer
    CoderDojo Foundation: @CoderDojo


    Ciara Mulgrew (Business in the Community)

    Working as part of the Education and Jobs team at Business in the Community (BITC), Ciara has responsibility for a number of educational programmes including ‘Time to Read’ and ‘Time to Code’. Ciara has a postgraduate certificate in Computer-Based Learning from Queen’s University and has held a number of roles in education and the business sector before joining BITC. The organisation works with schools and businesses throughout Northern Ireland to help raise aspirations and enhance self-esteem and confidence in young people, improving their readiness for the world of work.


    What is Time to Code?

    Time to Code is a new initiative run by BITC, in partnership with Code Club. Based on the success of our award-winning ‘Time to Read’ programme, it aims to help children at Key Stage 2 Level (7-9 years old) to gain IT and coding skills, build their confidence, and develop their team working and problem-solving abilities.

    What made you want to get involved with tech education?

    IT skills are becoming more and more valuable in the workplace, and we need to make sure that children get the right opportunities to make the best start in life. I completed Computer-Based Learning postgrad in 2005 and, while I could see there were so many benefits to developing the skills associated with coding, such as problem solving, collaborative thinking and creativity, I could also see that there weren’t many opportunities for young people to get involved and learn these skills. Where there were some opportunities, high costs in terms of equipment and location were often a barrier to entry. I’m passionate about education and I want to help share these skills and inspire young people.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    As part of my role, I get to visit lots of schools throughout Northern Ireland. I love working with the children and seeing them really enjoy learning. I’ve worked in a number of roles in schools previously, and I understand the pressures that primary school teachers are under, so it’s great to be able to support them. It’s a great feeling to know that at the end of the day, you’ve made a small difference to a young person’s future.

    What are the challenges you face?

    The programme is very much dependent on our volunteers. It’s a big ask, and we are very thankful to each of our volunteers that give up their time each week.

    What’s in store for the future of Time to Code?

    ‘Time to Code’ is a pilot programme, currently operating in Greater Belfast and the North West. It is supported by Belfast Harbour and BT. We hope that in the future we will be able to roll the programme out to reach more school children throughout Northern Ireland.

    Ciara Mulgrew: @mulgrew_ciara
    Business in the Community: @BITC

    Seamus Sands (Kainos)

    Seamus Sands is a Senior Analytics Engineer at Kainos, a leading provider of digital services and platforms. He is co-founder of the Bank of Invention and its community of innovative start-ups, and a member of part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, an initiative designed to enable young people to drive change. As part of Kainos’ Tech Outreach programme, he has spearheaded several initiatives including: ‘Digital Skills in the Classroom’ for Key Stage 1 & 2 teachers; the ‘Coding in the Classroom’ training programme for Key Stage 3 teachers; and helping to establish a community of practice for digital skills within Key Stage 1 & 2 lessons in partnership with the Grow the Glens committee. Seamus is currently undertaking a 12-month placement as a board member on the Education Authority NI non-executive director board.


    What made you want to get involved with tech education?

    I have a passion for education and improving the quality of teaching within technology. A big motivator for me is using the experience I have gained and to give back to local and wider communities. All of the work I’ve carried out through Tech Outreach has also helped me to develop myself as trainer and teacher.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    I really enjoy being able to empower teachers to have the confidence and knowledge they need to educate their students about digital skills. More widely, I like being in a position to inspire kids across Northern Ireland to build an awareness and interest in digital skills. Overall, I’m very pleased to be able to contribute and to try to influence change within the education system and help improve the digital skills gap here.

    What are the challenges you face?

    There are two main challenges. Firstly, the issue of scalability - we’d love to reach every teacher and child in Northern Ireland! And secondly, the issue of timeliness – we’re working hard to get better tech education into the core education system from Primary to Post-Primary.

    Seamus Sands: @ssands14
    Kainos: @KainosSoftware


    Claire Wilgar (Farset Labs)

    Claire is Community Manager with Farset Labs and has been with the organisation since its inception five years ago. She was formerly involved in Farset Labs’ CoderDojo classes, which run on fortnightly Friday afternoons and give children the opportunity to get involved in programming and game creation. Since 2014, she has been involved in organising the Farset site for Global Game Jam, a worldwide 48-hour game creation event held annually. Claire works as a senior front-end developer and has given talks at events including DjangoGirls Belfast, BelfastJS and the inaugural NI Developers Conference.


    What made you want to get involved with tech education?

    It's something I know I would have enjoyed as a kid but never got the opportunity to be involved with. Children are able to pick up tech very easily when they're introduced to it early, and I feel there's a gap there that can be filled in terms of showing kids just how many aspects of tech there are and what's involved.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    I love showing people how easily they can starting building things and getting results, and seeing their excitement as they manage to see their thoughts shown on screen or in hardware. I love inspiring their curiosity and confidence so that they leave excited to try more and keep playing with tech,

    What are the challenges you face?

    I think one of the biggest challenges is reaching people - with limited resources and time there are only so many people you can work with at one time. It would be amazing to get even more people involved. Being able to get access to adequate equipment can also be an issue, particularly with Farset Labs - considering the majority of our equipment and our funding comes from donations.

    What’s in store for the future of Farset Labs?

    We plan to continue running our CoderDojo and being involved in tech education for children and adults, as well as supporting and working with the tech community in Northern Ireland. 

    Claire Wilgar: @clairedotw
    Farset Labs: @FarsetLabs

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