Christian Baker : free, equal and digital

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme

What happens when information technology meets the Enlightenment philosophy? To put it differently: what happens when a young IT expert, with a diploma in political sciences, decides to connect his technical knowledge with his political values? It paves the way for a “Coder Dojo”, a coding initiation workshop that was successfully launched in Creil last year and will be duplicated in Senlis this year.

Let’s go back in time. Christian Baker has two passions: information technology and political philosophy.

On the one side, information technology is what his job is all about: setting up complex professional software that large companies use to manage their purchases, sales, inventories and resources. Strangely enough, this technical know-how that has become his professional competence was not taught to him by anybody: he learned on his own, self-educating first by fiddling around as a teenager on the family computer, then training himself with tutorials, reading and experience.

Political philosophy, on the other hand, is the field he studied at the University of Edinburgh and at Sciences Po Grenoble. Of all the ideas and theories that he discovered throughout this academic curriculum, he was most struck by the Enlightenment movement, that triggered the birth of modern Europe in the 18th century. And in particular by its two key principles: emancipation of individuals through reason, and the importance of civil society, of self-help and solidarity between people beyond institutions.

Inspired by his technical knowledge and those philosophical values, Christian Baker developed one firm belief: it is important to educate young people to coding so that they do not become mere consumers of life-invading digital technologies, but truly learn to master them.

So Christian pulled up his sleeves. He identified an Ireland-based philanthropic foundation called Coder Dojo, which provides a methodology to help set up coding initiation workshops. He then requested the help of the Rotary Clubs in Senlis and Chantilly as well as the Rotaract Club, a junior version of Rotary, in Chantilly to gather the necessary means to create a workshop. Finally he presented the project to the principals of Creil’s public high school and middle schools, all three of whom expressed interest.

And there it was: during the 2015-2016 school year, Christian hosted a monthly workshop on Saturday mornings with a friend, which ten to fifteen teenagers attended; he also launched a Facebook group to cultivate collective spirit amongst participants between workshop sessions. And in the end, there was the joy and pride of having made these youngsters capable to code in Scratch, in Javascript and in HTML, to write a program and design a website; the satisfaction of seeing them learn to develop logical reasoning, work in teams and argue for their ideas in front of their peers; and the happiness at the success of one of them, particularly brilliant, who was invited in Ireland to participate in a competition of the best students of “Coder Dojos” worldwide, presented his project in English and was included in the final selection of the jury.

Encouraged by this first experience, Christian Baker is now working on creating a second Coder Dojo, this time in Senlis. He has got the support from the Rotary once again to acquire supplies, as well as the go-ahead from the local council to host the workshop at the CEEBIOS, the city’s innovation campus. He would also like to organise a variation of the program specifically dedicated to girls because he knows from experience that, at this delicate time of adolescence, they are often reluctant to mingle with groups mainly made of boys.

Behind this personal dedication to help young people grow, it is a bit of Christian Baker’s paternal spirit that shows through: his two children hold an essential spot in his life. Like a lot of divorced fathers, he only sees them every other week but, beyond this off-and-on presence, it is for them that he invests himself in Senlis when his work could call him somewhere else, it is also with his mind on them that he wants to help this generation spread its wings.

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