How a ZX81 inspired a creative coder

Twelve-year-old Dan Powell was first introduced to coding on a ZX81. Nearly 40 years later, he is now Programme Manager for Code Club.

Find out how Dan’s early days of coding influenced his career, what his current coding project is, and how he is now sharing his love of coding with his daughters.

It all started with a ZX81

When I was 12, my parents bought me a ZX81 for Christmas. I spent hours in my bedroom in Essex copying lines of BASIC from the pages of Sinclair User, but once I had my Computer Science O level, my computing education stopped.

Jump forward to several years later, and my career took me into the arts as a sound artist. My early years experimenting with my ZX81 allowed me to see a computer as a great creative resource.

Dan performing as a sound artist
Photo credit: Agata Urbaniak

As a sound artist, I was always looking at ways to write my own instruments and build special effects.

I started to feel confident to try out different programs, which included FruityLoops, Ableton Live, and AudioMulch, and then I started to use Pure Data in early 2000. This opened up many doors in my creative journey, along with building some basic interfaces with the support of the Pure Data community.

Fast forward to 2015

I joined the Code Club team in 2015, where I support the Code Club regional team, and help to build the awesome community of Code Club volunteers and people who host clubs.

At Code Club, we always say that whether you’re an experienced coder or an absolute beginner, volunteering at your local Code Club is a great way to expand your digital skills. I have met many volunteers who are still learning to code, but share their skills to inspire people to get involved in digital making.

Dan with some of the regional team he supports

A lifelong learner

I am continuing to learn, and at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’re encouraged to keep learning by attending regular Maker Days held in our offices.

Every month, staff get together to code, build, and make. I work on different projects — sometimes I try out a project that the Content Team at the Raspberry Pi Foundation is working on and would like feedback on. Recently, I’ve also been trying to learn how to design my own printed circuit board, and during Maker Days, I have been able to get support from colleagues who have more experience than me.

Encouraging my daughters to code

I’ve been passing on some of the skills I’ve learnt to my daughters. I help run the Code Club at their school, and my eldest daughter took part in Astro Pi Mission Zero and has helped out at a Raspberry Jam that I’m involved in. She even ran some drop-in sessions on coding in Python!

Who knew that being gifted a ZX81 as a twelve-year-old boy would lead to all of this?

Dan with his daughter learning to code

Could you inspire the next generation to code? Code Club has a range of volunteer opportunities, and remember, you don’t need to be a coding genius to get involved!

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