Write the Code – Build the Software
Why Learn to Code?
Practically everything we do these days involves an electronic machine in some way. From the device you are reading this article on, the satellite navigation in the car, the cooking selector on the microwave in the kitchen and the child’s soft toy that speaks when it’s held. All these and so many more have software inside them. There are lines and lines of code running. Checking if a button has been pressed, responding to a touch or just counting down the time until the “Ping!”. Someone, somewhere has written that code. And that someone could easily be someone within the county of Cornwall. In the future that someone could be you or your offspring.
Developing software is very creative work. Problems are being solved that have never been solved before. Teams of staff are collaborating together to build something entirely new. Possibly a whole new industry or way to do things. And it’s pretty well paid as well. Another very good reason on why it’s good to learn to code.
Why Code in Cornwall?
All around Cornwall are some incredible companies developing all kinds of software. Underwater dolphin recognition from their calls, yacht marina booking systems, ship deck handling control systems, sports tournament results tracker and dashboard to life size King Kong robots.
These are all growing companies looking to expend. They need a source of talent to come and work for them. The staff should be coming from the Cornish population. Providing a really decent living standard from an industry that is at the cutting edge of the modern world. Right here between the rugged coastlines and abandoned mines.
Software Cornwall provides an outreach to schools to encourage children to code and we support the Cornwall Tech Jam too. But there are plenty of ways to learn to code from home. Below are some of the resources that can be used to start to code. Most are free or it is possible to pay for extra pathways. So take a look and if you’d like to know more then drop us a line at [email protected].
Primary School Age
We’d suggest that youngsters start with block type coding. These have blocks, rather like jigsaw puzzles, that clip together. If they won’t click then it’s not the correct code. If they do then it’ll probably work. From about the age of 9 or 10 text based languages can be learnt. It’s more about how well the child uses a keyboard and writes text. If typing the commands takes too long then it’s not as much fun. And software does not like bad spelling or punctuation. One missing ; and it can all go wrong.
Scratch from MIT
Possibly the leader in where to learn to code as a youngster. Built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Scratch has the backing that keeps it ahead of the game.
Free to use, works in the computer browser, accounts can be created to save your work and share in the community. Easy to use drag and drop blocks. Colourful characters, backdrops and clever interactions. Though it does look very simple, in the right hands this is still a very powerful development tool. As adults who have never coded it is also a great introduction.
If you really want to see what is possible with Scratch then look at Machine Learning for Kids. Create a Scratch program linked to IBM’s Watson super computer utilising artificial intelligence. Scratch is not just a simple children’s coding page.
An Hour of Code
The name says it all. Spend just an hour on numerous puzzles and learn to code. Some great themes from well known characters, helpful video guides and easy to use site. An Hour of Code gives anyone a brief taste of coding in easy to manage slices.
Secondary School Age and Above
An Hour of Code
Text written languages, more suitable for teens learning to code, are also available on Hour of Code. Again they have popular themes and short enough exercises to complete within the hour of coding.
With Codecademy you can learn all the major languages with interactive lessons. Work the way through the modules one step at a time. Read the plan for the problem on the left, type the code in the middle and see the result on the right. Then test to see if the system says it’s correct. Then move onto to the next lesson. Hints available if you have a problem and a community offering help if completely stuck.
All of the programming is done within the browser so there is no installation required.
Somewhat simpler in format than Codecademy, W3Schools has smaller bite size problems with on screen practice. A very clean interface makes it easy to go back and look something up. A useful reference to find a reminder on how to do something too. As the name implies it is more about the website development but also offers Python and other top languages to learn.
The Raspberry Pi Foundation
The Raspberry Pi is a very affordable computer built to encourage students to learn to code. Originally hoping to make 20,000 Raspberry Pi units the last sales figure released in 2021 was over 40 million sold around the world.
The Foundation has now joined with Code Club and CoderDojo to encourage students in clubs to build exciting projects with the small yet powerful computer.
Their website has a whole range of lessons and projects to try out. Obviously designed to be used on the Raspberry Pi itself but they don’t have to be. And the computers are available from £5 for the PiZero to the ‘standard’ Pi4 at £35. Plus there is the now very affordable Pico development board at £4. The release of the desktop Pi 400 in 2020 for under £100 now truly enables access to a desktop computer for almost anyone. Only a TV is needed for a screen.
The Microbit is a programmable board unlike the Raspberry Pi which is a full blown computer. The Microbit has two buttons, a microphone, 25 LEDs, breakout pins, Bluetooth, touch sensor, speaker, compass and accelerometer the Microbit is packed with things to develop projects with. A Raspberry Pi could be used to program the Microbit or any other computer. It is also possible to program the Microbit with a mobile phone. The Microbits can be bought for £15 or if you have a library card the Cornwall Libraries loan them out for free.
The Microbit website has loads of resources to learn to code with the Microbit. Their MakeCode block programming interface even has a Microbit emulator to visualise how the code would run on the real thing. With millions of Microbits around the world there are plenty of other resources available too to go through.
Adafruit of New York
Adafruit was founded by Limor Fried, otherwise known as Lady Ada, an electrical engineer. The company not only sells programmable boards they make them too. But important for this write up is the wealth of knowledge they have to build and makes things. There are tutorials and introductory work throughs of popular boards and circuitry. Including the Raspberry Pi and Microbit.
If you are interested in creating costumes, Christmas lighting or outrageous gadgets then this is a very good starting place.
Hardware to Start Creating
Creating simple programs on a home computer is fine to start with. But once the creative juices get going you may want to try something more physical. The Microbit and Raspberry Pi Pico have already been mentioned. But there are so many more. Arduino open source development boards, ESP8266 and ESP32 for wireless connectivity (thought the new Pico W also has wireless now too), Adafruit, Sparkfun and Pimoroni to name some of the most popular. Plus there are all the LED, buttons, motors, additional Hardware Attached on Top (HATS), speakers, robots and so, so much more.
To buy any of these in the UK there are a few top places. There are others but these are our favourite as they really support the educational and makers movement.
There are also the instructional sites too. Adafruit and Raspberry Pi have been mentioned. But there are also Instructables, Element14, Sparkfun and of course there are makers galore on Youtube.
This list of resources is by no means complete. Many of these have links between each other and to other places to learn. Simple internet searches will throw up plenty of places to make a start on your journey with coding.
If you are really interested in coding then keep in touch with Software Cornwall. Sign up as an In-Touch member to receive our newsletters. The Cornwall Tech Jam that runs once a month is an opportunity to come and meet us. We bring along all the necessary kit to have a go and it’s free too.
If you feel we have left a useful resource off then do please drop us a line and we will check it out.