Jordan’s ahead of the game

THE email was from a senior executive at Apple. “Your son has developed an excellent game, but he needs access to a Mac to finish his work,” it read. “If his game is published by Apple, he will be the youngest European developer of an app.”

Jordan’s ahead of the game

Jordan Casey’s mother was startled.

She knew that developing games was her son’s hobby, but she didn’t know he was so talented, let alone that he would attract the attention of Apple’s California headquarters. When he had asked her to buy him a Mac for €1,200, she had hesitated.

She cut a deal with him. She would buy the computer if Jordan paid her back within the year. He did, with his Confirmation money.

As predicted by the executive in Apple, the game was accepted and Jordan became the youngest European developer to have his work sold in Apple’s app store.

The twist is that Jordan invented the Apple executive, set up a fake email account, and sent the effusive endorsement himself.

For a boy who could write code for games — the intricate software that creates the architecture of every computer programme — it was easy.

His ingenuity illustrates the ‘think outside the box’ and the ‘never give up’ attitude that is the hallmark of entrepreneurs.

Since that first game, in Feb 2012, Jordan has developed three more games and now, at 13, he is branching out into other software development.

My involvement with Jordan dates to 2011, when I was teaching him in his final year at primary school. One Sunday morning, I was driving along the M9, listening to a business radio show, when I heard someone mention CoderDojo.

The panel was discussing how CoderDojo centres were being established in Ireland to encourage children to develop and nurture their coding skills (‘dojo’ is the Japanese word for a building where students learn martial arts).

CoderDojo is a global collaboration that provides free and open learning to young people, especially in programming technology.

I was teaching 11 and 12-year-old boys in sixth class in St Declan’s BNS in Waterford, and I wondered if any of them was programming.

When I asked, one hand tentatively went up at the back of the classroom. I looked at the boy, who was reserved but quietly determined and academically ambitious.

Jordan said that when he was nine he had first wanted to develop his own game.

He had purchased HTML for Dummies (hypertext markup language, used to create web pages) and studied the book.

He was then creating his first game, Alien Ball v Humans, which he hoped would be accepted as an app by Apple.

As his teacher, I could only marvel at his industriousness.

As the weeks progressed, I sporadically asked for updates until, one day in Feb 2012, a beaming Jordan told me that his app had been accepted by Apple and that they had verified that he was the youngest developer of an app in Europe.

His joy was palpable and I could see how much it meant to him. I watched his success with pride.

Spurred on by his mother (who encouraged her son’s potential, despite her apprehension about buying the Mac), they generated publicity about his accolade with Apple.

Thus began the invitations to speak at educational and technical conferences around the world, the first one being JWT’s Junior Worldmakers seminar, at Cannes Lions, in Jun 2012.

Jordan was invited to speak, as he was one of the world’s junior playmakers, a young person who can change the world.

He has since spoken at numerous other events, including Tedx (an organisation dedicated to ideas worth spreading) and BETT 2013 (a global tech show at London’s ExCeL exhibition centre).

In May, at the age of 13, Jordan became the youngest entrepreneur to speak to 4,000 delegates at the TiEcon Summit in California, where his topic was ‘Things I Learned the Hard Way as a Young CEO’.

Imagine being 13 and chief executive officer of your own company — Casey Games.

Jordan’s success has left me asking questions of myself as a teacher.

Do we spot the up-and-coming entrepreneurs in our classrooms? Would I have spotted Jordan’s talent, were it not for hearing a radio discussion about CoderDojo?

I honestly cannot say that I contributed to his work, as all of the coding was done independently by him, at home. I would, however, like to think that he applied some of the logic from maths to his work and that his English vocabulary has helped him when speaking at global conferences.

I’ve asked Jordan about his entrepreneurial spirit. He says: “I think it’s something you’re born with,” but he also attributes his success to the early nurturing and ongoing encouragement and support of his parents, Louise and Clyde.

His teachers have been supportive of his work, too.

My experience with Jordan has reinforced my need to know each student individually and the importance of ascertaining their interests at the outset of each academic year. I never want to miss a hidden entrepreneurial talent or skill that might be under my nose.

And here’s the crucial bit for every teacher.

We must be open to learning from, and being inspired by, our students, as much as the other way around.

In fact, I was so inspired by Jordan that I undertook a Scratch programming course in the summer of 2012.

In Aug 2013, I completed a course on using tablets and online resources in teaching literacy and numeracy.

With my newfound skillset, I’m confident that there will be greater engagement and productivity in my class. I will continue to watch Jordan’s progress, even as my own skills develop.

Maybe, someday in the future, I will send an email to Jordan Casey, executive with Apple, saying that some of my students have developed an app, but that they really need a Mac to finish the work.

I’m sure Jordan will have an idea or two to help us out.

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