Thinkspace: Helping to inspire the next Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg’s

Guest blog post from Thinkspace Co-Founder, James Anderson.

My name is James Anderson and I am a 16 year old student at Devonport High School for Boys. I spend most of my free time developing websites, apps and more. In January, I was speaking with a few friends discussing how we could encourage more young people to get involved in developing apps. Before this I developed an app for my school’s Virtual Learning Environment (basically an online portal where students, staff and parents could access school data) and within days download’s soared. In 2012 I released an app called Quesco - a virtual whiteboard for students and teachers to use in schools. Stephen Fry seemed to like it! I was lucky enough to have the resources I needed to create these apps right at my fingertips at home; this is not the case for many other students.

We noticed that until Sixth Form, there was no option to learn how to develop websites, apps and desktop software, and it was that moment we realised something needed to change. Five potential years for teaching Computer Science are, in some cases, wasted in secondary school because the curriculum is out-of-date. For a subject that so many young people are interested in, it’s baffling that we are forced to wait so long to learn anything meaningful. Many students aged 16 and above have already made up their minds about what they want to do; who they want to be. We were astonished to find that nobody else had created a space - a new culture - in secondary schools to target students at a younger age when they are more likely to be interested in coding. So Kamran, Ollie and I founded Thinkspace.

A Thinkspace will be a space in schools around the world where students can come and learn how to create these websites and apps - and it is student led. We’re hoping to pick out the next Jack Dorsey's, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg's and we believe this is possible with Thinkspace. I’m sure many of you will have heard of Code Club or CoderDojo at some point. In many ways, what they are doing and how they are doing it is completely different to Thinkspace. Even the word ‘code’ in all of their names suggests an image of a person hunched over a computer with absolutely no social life at all and, certainly in my mind, that would make me very nervous about learning how to code.

Thinkspace is all about removing that stereotype and making ‘coding’, ‘programming’, ‘developing apps’ - whatever you want to call it - more fashionable and popular in the 21st century. It’s about time, right?

To attract the most dedicated and passionate individuals, we’ve made our spaces as wonderful and - some would even go as far as to say, magical - as possible, so we hope this will unleash people’s creativity. This space will look like you’ve just walked into Microsoft or Google’s Headquarters. We’re proud to announce that our very first two Thinkspace's have been built; one in Northern Ireland and a flagship one in Plymouth, UK. The first thing you’ll notice when stepping into Devonport High School for Boys’ Thinkspace are the beautiful shade of blue on the walls, three 27" Windows 8 machines, iMacs, several handfuls of phones, slick wooden flooring and beanbags to relax on when you aren’t working.

We haven’t been working on Thinkspace alone. Stephen Fry showed a real interest in the project in the first few weeks and has been giving his support ever since. I met him for the first time in June and he is genuinely one of the kindest and most amazing people I have ever met in my life. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, has also been incredibly supportive and agrees that Computer Science should be taught in all schools across the world from Year 7 upwards. Dick Costolo, Richard Branson, Dennis Crowley, Chris Fry, Steve Beswick, Vic Gundotra and Jimmy Wales are all involved too.

In April, we decided that it was necessary to build a social network in order to connect all these schools, students and teachers together. Bear in mind that this was a few weeks before our first exam and we’d never ever built a social network before! Within three weeks we had a very basic prototype up and running and since then, we haven’t stopped working on it. Now the social network - branded as Thinkspace Social - definitely looks the part and we are hoping thousands of students around the world will use it to help them learn how to code or encourage others to do so by teaching them. It just goes to show you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

We have recruited ten ambassadors worldwide, via Twitter, to help get a Thinkspace up and running in their own countries. Hopefully we can work to get more ambassadors for Thinkspace and expand even further than we already have.

Last week I attended a launch event at the Northern Irish Assembly with our Regional Manager, Jordan Earle. We had nothing but positive feedback, which was a fantastic start to what would become a really successful project. In the past few days; Stephen Fry, Jimmy Wales, Richard Branson and others have been tweeting and posting about our project sharing it around the world.

So are you a student or teacher reading this - would you like to get involved? At the moment our social network is invite only for students, although any teacher can sign up for free and get access to heaps of resources and the ability to meet some amazing new people.

If you’re a young person and you want to build the next big thing, then Thinkspace is certainly the place to go to. Don’t have one near you? Start your own and help find the next generation of software engineers! You don’t need thousands of pounds to fund your Thinkspace; we have included lots of free resources on the website. If there is one piece of advice I would give to any other young entrepreneurs out there, it would be to stay focused, stay determined and build great relationships with companies and people in general.

Thank you to all our backers, ambassadors, friends, family and especially our Deputy Headteacher (@stevemargetts), who have encouraged us along the way and helped shape what Thinkspace is today.

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