By Torsten Stauch

After finishing school I spent some time travelling around Europe with my sister. Coming from South Africa overseas travel was a big deal. Every day opened up a new world of discovery: tasting delicious (and disgusting) foods, seeing some spectacular places, and watching intriguing people going about their daily lives.

I sometimes felt like a secret agent as I watched these people. If I stayed in the background (camera packed away) they wouldn’t necessarily notice that I was a tourist. I would watch them, listen to them, not understanding them at all but trying to decipher their secret language.

This was the single thing that made me feel most alien in a foreign country: their secret language. I could try and blend in by wearing similar clothes, copying their mannerisms and patterns. But as soon as I opened my mouth my to speak my cover was blown. In Paris I tried to mask it by putting on a French accent (while speaking English) – seemed to make matters worse 🙁

When my sister and I visited Germany we felt right at home: We can both speak German and suddenly we felt part of the “in-crowd”. We could order food, ask directions, even enjoy a joke with the locals. And those nervous butterflies I had when trying to get by in other countries were gone. Speaking the language made me feel right at home.

Learning to read and write computer code is exactly the same. If you’ve never done it before you probably feel nervous about finding your way around. You ask directions and the “locals” rattle off instructions that leave you more confused than ever. The in-crowd quite literally speak a different language and the whole world of computers seems inaccessible to you.

You might be tempted to grab at the weakest excuse ever: to dismiss them as geeks, saying “There are better things to do with my time.” Come on, don’t be chicken! Are you one of those tourists who never leaves the safety of the hotel? Be brave and take the plunge. You only have to learn a few basics of computer-speak to get by, and you’ll pick up more along the way.

Recently I helped out on a project aimed at teaching school children how to code. Working with O2 Think Big we helped young people get their first taste of computer programming. We didn’t start with heavy duty coding, just some simple instructions to tell the computer what to do. We guided them through the basic steps of building a smartphone app using AppShed.

The support provided by O2 Think Big is like having a friend in a foreign country. A friend takes you around, shows you how things work, and you get to hang out with the locals. Some great people from O2 guided the students through the process of building an app. And it’s not nearly as daunting as you might think. To start off you don’t have to write code – you can use one of the many amazing visual-editors that make coding very simple for beginners.

Having worked with O2 Think Big Schools in the past I am familiar with their covert methods… Instead of throwing you in the deep end with heavy duty programming, they start off by giving you a vision. Think about “The Why”. Why would you want to create an app? What purpose would you have for coding? Could you solve a problem? Could you make a difference in your community?

As I work with young people it’s fantastic to see how enthusiastic they are about solving problems, especially when it does something for good. They need to start small, because small is achievable. But they need to think big, because big is also achievable! Learning to code is achievable too – just take it one small step at a time. That’s how every other coder did it.

Think about travelling to a foreign country: wouldn’t it be cool if you could hang out with the locals. You don’t have to be an über-geek. Just learn enough “computer-speak” to get by and you will discover a whole new world of possibilities.

Computers are just sitting there waiting to be told what to do. Go on, you tell them!


About Torsten Stauch
Torsten built his first computer game at age 12 and has gone on to start 3 companies and build a wide variety of software products. He is a popular speaker in the ed-tech sector with a strong focus on education, creativity and entrepreneurship. 

Torsten is the CEO of AppShed. AppShed, an ed-tech company focusing on the use of app development as an education tool. He has helped grow AppShed into a global company with over 100,000 users and thousands of schools & colleges worldwide. AppShed is the most versatile open source tool available for students to create mobile apps. Students can easily create using a wide range of tools and then deploy their projects as web-apps in a matter of minutes.

Torsten is also a founder and technical director of Red C, a 12-year-old digital consultancy based in London’s Tech City. Red C boasts many large corporate clients including Thames Water, The Independent, Mitsubishi Securities, SociétéGénérale & Fabergé. Torsten oversees the technical solutions and product development with a primary focus on the financial services sector.

As a developer Torsten built a variety of web and app products including “Plug and Play content management system” and Bus Guru which provides 100k+ London bus users with real-time bus information.

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