Why let Code.org have all the fun? Here's how Europe can get with the program and learn how to code

Roxanne Varza gives a comprehensive overview of the various learn-to-code initiatives and other noteworthy computer programming education projects that are mushrooming all across Europe.
Why let Code.org have all the fun? Here's how Europe can get with the program and learn how to code

By now, just about everyone has seen that awesome Code.org video in which Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Drew Houston and dozens of other entrepreneur heroes explain the benefits of learning to code (if you are not one of the 11 million people who've seen it, hurry up and click here).

Learning how to code has become increasingly trendy, thanks to the likes of sites like CodeAcademy and organizations like Code.org.

Whether or not it is taught in schools, understanding computer programming is now seen as a skill that should be had by the general working population, like reading, writing or speaking English.

While all eyes seem to be on America, Europe has been incredibly quick to jump on board the learn-to-code boat, with numerous ambitious initiatives popping up all across the Old Continent.

To the drawing motherboard

With often very traditional educational systems in place, the majority of Europe's governments have not yet made programming part of the school curriculum. Britain, however, plans to become the first country in the world to mandate learning to code in primary and secondary schools. British Education Secretary, Michael Grove, announced that he would be introducing this new tech curriculum as early as September 2014 and that this change would impact students as young as 5 years old.

Estonia is another country that has clearly been in the lead when it comes to bringing tech education to classrooms. In fact, the country introduced optional programming courses to the national curriculum for secondary schools in 2011 and quickly moved towards making these courses available for younger students;  the country's ProgeTiiger initiative now  has made coding available in public schools for students in grades 1-12 (or ages roughly 7-16). That said, Estonia's small 1.3 million population does make it much easier to roll-out such courses.

While not all European countries are upgrading their educational systems just yet, there are numerous private initiatives popping-up all over Europe - ranging from after-school workshops for young kids to classes for women to one-day learn-how-to-code programs for large companies, and many more - that facilitate the access to programming education.

Working with the younger age-range of potential coders are the UK's Code Club and Ireland's CoderDojo. Code Club - which describes itself as a "nationwide network of volunteer-led after school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 - has expanded to over 1,300 schools in the UK and over 100 schools in other countries. Taking a similar volunteer-led strategy, CoderDojo aims its classes at the 5-17 age group. Founded in 2011 by Irish developer James Whelton when he was just 18, CoderDojo is present in Europe in countries like the UK, France and Spain -and even plans to take on the African continent this year.

There's more where that came from

While there are also numerous organizations that focus specifically on teaching women to learn to code, there are few Europe-born initiatives that target the female demographic. North American initiatives like Girls Who Code or Ladies Learning Code have been slower to expand throughout Europe.

That said, the one female-oriented initiative that has really taken off is Finland's Rails Girls, whose basic programming workshops are now available across the globe in countries like China, Israel and more. In Europe, Rails Girls event locations include Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and even Macedonia.

One woman who has been a very strong voice and advocate of learning to code in Europe is Decoded's 31-year-old Kathryn Parsons. The cofounder of the UK-based company that strives to "demystify coding and make it less intimidating"  has developed one-day workshops designed for corporations and organizations that want to bring their staff up to speed. In just over two years since its launch, Decoded has taught over 2,500 execs to code, from the likes of Unilever, Microsoft, Google and more.

Moving away from the volunteer-led or workshop model and more towards a proper school for coding is France's Ecole 42. An initiative of French billionaire and high-school dropout turned telecom executive, Xavier Niel, Ecole 42 somewhat defies the conventional French education model (well, at least according to the New York Times). Targeting the 18-to-30 age group, the school's practical rather than theoretical approach aims at teaching some 1,000 students annually to code free of charge for up to 3 years. It represents a rumoured €70 million (or $94 million) investment that could help fill the 60,000 computer coding jobs thought to be available in France alone.

There are dozens of additional programs throughout Europe that provide several weeks of courses in order to teach the basics of coding - like IronHack in Spain or Maker's Academy in the UK.

In fact, if you know of any other noteworthy initiatives and organizations, please let us know in the comment section so we can update this article accordingly.

Unlike the different European government programs to support startups, many of these learn-to-code initiatives are actually cross-border, and Europe seems to be taking a more holistic approach to solving the tech education problem. For example, Europe Code Week (Nov 25-30, 2013), launched by the European Commission's Neelie Kroes' Young Advisors, brought together over 300 different learn-to-code events in Europe in a single week (check out the map).

It's likely that this trend will continue to grow and we'll see more and more initiatives oriented towards learning to code popping up throughout Europe in 2014. If you're interested in taking part in the learn-to-code movement, I highly encourage you to try and get involved with an initiative that already exists, rather than starting your own. Strengthening networks like CoderDojo or Rails Girls can only be beneficial to the continent as a whole.

Europe could use a ton more coders to program its way into the future. If you haven't made any solid New Year's resolutions yet, then what about you joining one of the initiatives above?

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