Entrepreneurship - Teenagers wow the world's tech giants

Frustration at lack of computing opportunities led to a big idea

It took Mark Zuckerberg until he was at Harvard before he came up with Facebook, but one school student in England has already developed his own social network that has led to job offers from Apple, Google and Twitter.

James Anderson, a sixth-form student at Devonport High School for Boys, a grammar school in Plymouth, has received praise from the likes of Virgin boss Richard Branson and celebrity technology enthusiast Stephen Fry for his venture, which aims to teach students how to code.

The not-for-profit business, called Thinkspace (thinkspace.co.uk), has developed a social network that provides students from all over the world with a space in which they can learn how to code by sharing their knowledge and ideas.

The site connects students within and between schools, monitored by teachers and with discussion limited to technology, coding and apps. The organisation also seeks to encourage schools to create dedicated zones that allow students to learn how to code in an informal setting.

The idea came to James after he became frustrated by the lack of opportunities to learn computing within the curriculum and at GCSE level. He decided to set up his own enterprise to give him and his fellow students the chance to learn programming outside regular classes. The result was Thinkspace, which has now won backing from Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, Dick Costolo, Twitter's chief executive, and Vic Gundotra, Google's senior vice-president.

On the website's promotional video, Mr Costolo says: "I'll tell you why I am excited about projects like Thinkspace ... (Programming) gets you into a pattern of rigorous and deeply analytical thinking that helps you throughout the rest of your life, whether you embark on a career in technology or not."

A testimonial from Mr Wozniak states: "What you have dreamt up, hundreds of millions of people around the world can engage in. You are just getting started and I wish you the best of luck."

James said that he developed the concept with the help of two fellow Devonport students, 14-year-old Ollie Bredemeyer and 16-year-old Kamran Malik, when he became interested in the idea of designing and building his own apps.

"No one at my school could help me, so I decided to look into it online, on websites and watching videos on YouTube, and I built up my experience from there," James said. "My school then got iPads and I spoke to my deputy headteacher about setting up a Genius Bar, like in an Apple store, to help with their devices, but that changed over time to helping them design apps. It was then that we realised we could do something bigger and it evolved into Thinkspace."

The website went live only on 5 September but already the project has been lavished with praise. James was even asked to give a presentation at the Northern Ireland Assembly when he officially opened a Thinkspace at a school in the province.

The teenager has been told by Twitter, Apple and Google to get in touch once he leaves school and is seeking employment.

Steve Margetts, Devonport's deputy headteacher, said that what the three students had achieved in such a short period of time was "amazing". "It's a great responsibility for us to make sure we're able to give these students the opportunities that will allow them to fulfil their potential. But the amount of get up and go they have shown has been phenomenal," he added.

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