The founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation tells us how he put a pocket-money computer in the hands of the next generation of programmers, and gives us a tip on the future of gaming….
Learning computer programming was the best thing I ever did.
It was also an easy decision to make because I had a BBC Micro in my bedroom. Raspberry Pi was born of a desire to give another generation of kids the same opportunity. Because although today’s phones, tablets and games consoles are all very clever, they’re not programmable.
My first piece of code was probably >10 PRINT «I AM THE BEST» >20 GOTO 10. Most school kids in the ’80s knew how to do that. I stayed on the BBC Micro for a few years and I learned a lot because it had a built-in assembler. You could break out of BASIC into assembly language, then go back into BASIC. With that basis in assembly language, it was an easy transfer to the Amiga a few years later. By the time I started work experience for IBM at age 18,1 hadn’t written any code in a higher-level language for several years, but that wasn’t an issue because the fundamental principles are basically the same.
Price was a crucial factor in developing the Pi.
Our earliest desire was that it should cost about £20, so that parents or schools would buy them. It took us another four years to figure out what hardware we needed, and two more to get the first one built.
My favourite Pi project so far is Dave Ackerman’s balloon project. He hooks them up to cameras and sends them up to the edge of space underneath weather balloons. The nice thing about the Pi is that when people do something with it. they don’t just post a self-congratulatory video, they post a full set of instructions and source code on Github, so that people can clone what they’ve done. That means any primary school in the country can use Dave’s work to build their own space project.
Other people are the best source of Pi knowledge.
There is a steep learning curve — we’re working on that — so the best way to learn is to join a club. Code Club (codeclub.org.uk) runs after-school clubs, Coder Dojo (coderdojo.com) also does events for adults, and the Raspberry Jam events (raspberryjam.org.uk) are part show-and-tell, part user group. For a fairly simple first project, try to get a Pi running as a media centre. It makes a very good IPTV set-top box.
When it comes to my personal gadgets, I’m a bit of a Luddite.
My laptop is an old Thinkpad X14, which is basically bulletproof, and I’ve got an antique BlackBerry that I only use for calls and email. I’ve just got a Galaxy Note 10.1, because I’m wondering whether the stylus might work better for me than a conventional tablet. But I’m not really a gadgets guy, mainly because I don’t have time.