Retro computer roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

Retro computer roadshow bringing IT skills to NI schools

Female students using vintage computers

The traveling exhibition aims to inspire students to pursue careers in computer science

Students are getting their hands on vintage technology as a retro computing roadshow makes its way through Northern Ireland.

The students were amazed by the 8-bit computers, video games and early examples of cell phones.

The Code Show aims to educate and inspire students to consider a career in the IT industry.

There is a shortage of computer skills in Northern Ireland and a relatively low number of girls study computer science.

This has been attributed to cultural stereotypes.

Gareth O’Hare of Wellington College Belfast is behind the proposal to introduce the roadshow to Northern Ireland.

“I want to take it around schools to give that little spark, I want the kids to get that ignition, that interest that could make them choose a career in IT,” she said.

The Code Show was first conceived by Gary McNab, who has more than 20 years of experience in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industries.

Speaking about his motivation for launching The Code Show, he said: “By providing the computer science curriculum at a local primary school, I have identified that the National Curriculum makes no mention of how Britain entered the computer age.

“With over 300 machines and my passion, I believe I can offer schools an affordable and alternative experience in their environment, providing the whole school with a day of learning and hands-on experiences.”

Vintage unlock computer

The Atari 2600 dominated the gaming industry in the 1980s

The traveling museum of technology is expected to visit 10 different schools over the course of two weeks, and Mr. O’Hare says it was well received in its first location.

“The pupils were actually as excited as we were; we noticed the expressions on their faces when they walked into the classroom. They just wanted to try everything.”

Students who were amused by technology were amused by the primitive nature of technology, but they could appreciate how advanced it must once have been.

For the most part, the world’s first electric car, a Sinclair C5, proved to be a sight not to be missed.

Ninth year student Jason Allen played a game of the 1980s classic, Manic Miner, and was surprised at how entertaining he found it.

“It’s fun, it’s hard, not like most of the games I’ve played. It’s the graphics I expected, I really liked it and I would play it again.

“It doesn’t seem simple because the code behind it was great for the time. The fact that it was created [at the time it was] it’s a real shock to me. “

The Code Show at Wellington College

The Code Show made its first visit to Northern Ireland last week and traveled to 10 different schools

Explaining the IT skills shortage, McNab says it can often be a male-dominated industry with surveys finding that female participation is far behind.

“What’s missing is the number of girls who choose to take IT subjects at GCSE and A levels,” she said.

To address this issue, her college runs programming clubs for girls and introduced programming during the third key stage to help develop pupils’ understanding and interest in the subject from a young age.

“Programmers are always in demand, but like medicine, IT has a wide and varied degree of specialization.

“Cybersecurity is a huge growing industry and threat. A huge career sector is growing in this part of the industry and I know a success story from here.”

Girl on vintage computer

Gareth O’Hare of Wellington College wants to see more women enter the industry

One such success story is Sophie Kane who just dropped out of college to pursue a software and computer systems development apprenticeship.

“I was never really interested in IT, I was introduced to programming and found it quite difficult,” she said.

“It was only when I was introduced to visual applications through games, Xbox, PlayStation … it turned on something.

“You see it’s all math and text. Whatever you want, you can turn it into a game if you have those skills.

“It doesn’t tend to be what a lot of women go to.”

Commodore Computer

The classic Commodore was one of the pieces of technology on display

Speaking of the changing curriculum over the years, Mr. O’Hare said, “Six or seven years ago, the curriculum’s interest in computing started to grow.

“[This event] is reminding students that the growing computer industry in Northern Ireland is not a job, it’s a career, it’s better paid than most.

“It’s a lifetime career and employing female role models can help boost girls’ adoption in IT.”

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