International prize for Kingsway coding champion

After just a year of learning how to code, Jonathan Squirrell of Red Beach has won third place in the international coding competition Asia Pacific’s Next Top Coder.

The 15-year-old Kingsway School student competed against 13 to 19 year olds from across the globe last December and his creation achieved New Zealand’s highest placing.

Jonathan was invited to Microsoft in Auckland to receive his prize on March 5, which included a Star Wars augmented reality headset valued at $449.

The competition, which was a collaboration between Microsoft and Empire Code, was set within Minecraft, a videogame filled with millions of animated blocks players can manipulate into almost anything. Instead of just playing the game, competitors had to write code to create a tutorial style walk-through in a new Minecraft world.

Jonathan’s creation was inspired by Rotten Romans, a book from his favourite Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary.

The end result, described by Microsoft as “comprehensive and imaginative”, displays a Roman triumph ceremony complete with dialogue to explain the ritual and traditions including trumpeters and sacred cows.

While Jonathan has been playing Minecraft at home for more than four years, he only learnt to code last year in his Year 10 digital class. His mother, Dr Judi Squirrell, says he has quite the knack for it.
“He is taking digital again this year; he really loves it,” she says.

Jonathan is on the autism spectrum, and Judi says coding, Minecraft and the competition in general, were a great way for him to express his creativity.

Another part of his prize was a career coaching video-chat with a Microsoft consultant from Singapore, who explained how Microsoft is specifically recruiting people with autism.

“In America, Canada and Ireland they are actively recruiting computer coders with autism, recognising the skills in the autistic community and acknowledging that people with autism can fly under the radar when using a traditional recruitment process,” Judi says.

This is the first programme of its kind that Judi has heard of, which makes her optimistic about Jonathan’s future.

“Many children on the autism spectrum have so much ability and are only lacking in social skills, so it’s very hard for them to break into the job market.

“Microsoft is enabling these people to come in and do jobs they are perfectly capable of and giving them support – it makes me really hopeful.”