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West Sound CoderDojo Movement Ready to Spread Wings to New Communities

by Rodika Tollefson

[November 22, 2016] - Like most of their peers across the country, the majority of Washington youth don’t have access to any computer programming in school — less than a quarter of high schools offer computer science classes. Faced with an estimated 45,000 unfilled STEM jobs in the state — a number that continues to grow — lawmakers are pushing for more computer science education.

But two West Sound leaders in the technology and business sector didn’t want to wait. Charles and Doña Keating also wanted to encourage the interest and involvement their daughter has had in coding since kindergarten.

“In a 21st century innovation economy, coding is a second language that everyone should speak,” Doña Keating explains. “We wanted to make coding more accessible to other kids, including underrepresented areas like West Sound.”

The result of the Keatings’ vision was West Sound CoderDojo (WSCD), a volunteer-led, community-based initiative that is part of an explosive worldwide movement. Since the launch of West Sound CoderDojo in May 2015, nearly 2,000 Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula youth and parents have learned programming through the free workshops.


Why Every Community Needs CoderDojo

The CoderDojo movement is not just about education, but learning. In a fun, interactive, and inclusive environment where kids are taught to be leaders and mentors. Where they can become creators of technology and not just consumers.

It’s also not just about technology or getting a degree and a job.

 “It's about our lives in this century and beyond,” Doña says. “It's how we think and solve problems, and how we'll be interacting with artificial intelligence.”

Unlike structured classroom instruction, CoderDojo sessions are self-directed and collaborative. Kids and parents learn together, and the young coders help each other. Volunteer mentors, usually parents or others within the community, are on standby to facilitate should students get stuck.

It’s this kind of interaction — collaborative problem solving and critical thinking — that inspired the Keatings to join the movement. And it’s what drives them now to grow it across the Kitsap region and even Washington State.

Some parents contact WSCD and say their kids are not interested in coding, are intimidated by it, or don’t want a career in computer science. It’s true that programming professions don’t appeal to everyone. But computational learning and language are used to improve and facilitate progress across all industries, including medicine, aviation, business, agriculture, energy, automotive, graphic design, architecture, and law. They’re also used in numerous applications, from smart homes and smart cities to video games and entertainment.

“Everything we do will require an understanding of code,” Keating says.

It’s not unusual, however, for a youngster first exposed to programming at a CoderDojo to become interested in a STEM career. Just ask Bill Bandrowski. His daughter, Rose, recently took an advanced placement computer science class, tapping into the DigiPen and CoderDojo experiences the Keatings brought to the region under WSTA's umbrella. “She has made the decision to head into STEM, most likely engineering,” Bandrowski says.

Washington state ranks as No. 1 in the country for STEM jobs. The state also has the second fastest-growing gap between available jobs and skilled workers to fill them. Why not use CoderDojo as a springboard to help fill that gap?

Lary Coppola, the executive director for Port of Allyn, says the results of efforts like this will take some time to come to fruition, but they’re a positive step toward economic development. Which is why the Port is co-hosting and co-sponsoring a coderdojo on Dec. 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“Pragmatically, we understand that not every kid is going to go to college, so this can be viewed a lot like vocational-type training for the 21st century,” he says. “We also know that a certain portion of these kids will become tech entrepreneurs, creating good-paying jobs for others down the road.”

He says it’s important to attract these kids early and to get them interested in coding by making it fun.

“We will also be teaching them a 21st-century skill that will get them a good-paying job with unlimited potential by the time they’re ready to go to work,” he says.


Being Part of a Global Movement

When 18-year-old James Whelton — an Irish geek with exceptional talent — kept being asked by his school mates to teach them programming, he looked for a way to fill the void in computer science education. He approached venture capitalist Bill Liao with an idea, and within a year, CoderDojos had sprouted all over the world.

Five years later, the movement has spread to 65 countries, with more than 1,100 clubs formed by leaders like the Keatings. From kids of Hollywood celebrities to kids in Africa, CoderDojo has inspired a new generation of coders.

Each CoderDojo is led by a Champion and that community. While they can tap into resources such as registration platforms, tutorials, and more, it’s up to each dojo to coordinate volunteers, mentors, and outreach for its particular effort. In other words, each community owns the program — it’s not simply a matter of showing up or not.

As Liao likes to say, “CoderDojo is free. It is not a free ride!"


Future of WestSound CoderDojo in Your Hands

West Sound CoderDojo is a Licensed Regional Group (LRG) under CoderDojo (which is based in Ireland). As such, one of its goals is to expand the movement to other communities throughout Washington.

Ross O’Neill, community lead with the CoderDojo Foundation, headquartered in Dublin, says this is an exciting time as the conversation has been sparked on how CoderDojo can grow more communities across Washington State.

“West Sound is the perfect example of how far the movement has reached and how a community can grow very strong using CoderDojo through amazing community members behind it,” he says.

WSCD, however, is at a crossroads. The initiative operates under the umbrella of the West Sound Technology Association, which is in transition, following resignations of treasurer Bill Bandrowski and longtime president Charles Keating at the end of 2016.

“With the transitions taking place at WSTA, the question of what happens to WSCD is at the forefront,” Charles says. “Whether it continues, and how long, has a lot to do with how the community embraces and helps this move forward.”

The Keatings and other supporters are committed to growing the momentum. But they need you — parents, grandparents, business owners, employees, everyone — to own this and volunteer your time and energy to keep this critical and fun movement going.

“This is your dojo, and the opportunity to open up more across the region wherever you'd like,” Doña says. “We'll even guide you through the process or answer questions if you hit a speed bump.”

What You Can Do


Here are some of the many ways you can help:


  • Have good problem-solving skills? You don't necessarily have to be a tech genius to be a volunteer mentor. But programming skills are a plus.

  • Great with words, graphic design, outreach? Help spread the word, create eye-catching flyers, wordsmith the messaging.

  • Organized? Volunteer to help with Eventbrite, guiding folks through registration, helping with check-in.

  • Visionary and daring? Help put together fun projects, competitions, and tutorials.

  • Bring your friends and help us grow the movement! If you're a parent, reach out to other parents, fellow Rotarians, colleagues and coworkers, your child's Boy or Girl Scouts troop.

Learn More

The North Mason CoderDojo on Dec. 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will be hosted at the Port of Allyn building. Bring your kids to experience the environment and the collaborative learning. Learn about the benefits of participating in the global CoderDojo movement by starting up your own dojo, whether under WSCD’s LRG or as an independent champion. Tickets are free and registration is required.

Or come to one of the regular WSCD sessions that are hosted at the Western Washington University campus in Poulsbo. For a schedule, go to

If you’d like to start the conversation about starting your own dojo, contact West Sound CoderDojo at

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