Teenage coder shocks local developers

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PETALING JAYA: Within the short span of four to five months, teenager Manojkumar Subramaniam has managed to become a familiar face in the local coding community.

Better known as Manoj, the SMK Bandar Tasik Puteri Form Five student caught the eyes of programmers and developers when he showed up at a hackathon and built his own LoRa (Long-Range Low-Power End Node Solution) device, a feat impressive in itself since the technology is not yet widespread in Malaysia.

Manoj’s expertise currently lies mostly in dealing with the Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized minicomputer that has taken the UK education system by storm and now has a sizeable following of programmers in Puchong.

Programming with the Raspberry Pi requires knowledge of basic programming languages such as Python and C, and Manoj says he sank in many hours a day for a few months to learn them.

“Manoj contacted me via Facebook asking for help and advice on programming with Raspberry Pi,” Ted Chan, the founder of the Malaysian Raspberry Pi Club, told FMT.

“I then had to see who this young coder all the way from Rawang was. Was he for real?”

Chan has since been mentoring Manoj, meeting him frequently to give the youngster classes in programming.

The soft-spoken boy first began strutting his stuff at robotics competitions in local universities, using Raspberry Pi as the base for his robots and contraptions.

For the less tech-savvy, Manoj’s most recent achievement involves using LoRa, an alternative to typical WiFi technology that is mainly used for connecting to the Internet of Things (IoT) network, which aims to connect everyday household objects to the Internet.

Connecting to the IoT network requires a special gateway device, the technology for which is not yet cheaply available in Malaysia.

According to Chan, the hackathon he and Manoj attended had to source a model from the Netherlands for the event.

Manoj built a device to connect to the IoT gateway device, an impressive feat, especially given general local unfamiliarity with IoT technology.

Even more impressive is the youngster’s drive to learn, as he balances his studies and preparations for this year’s SPM examinations with his passion for coding.

According to Manoj, his parents are largely supportive of his passion, and have only reminded him to make sure he remembers his studies.

“My friends don’t really know about what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m spending all my free time doing this.

“I took four to five months to learn Python and C, alongside other programming languages. I spent many hours doing this.”

Manoj also boasts some expertise with the Arduino, a microcontroller alternative to Raspberry Pi.

People like Manoj are the reason why there needs to be more awareness of coding among teenagers and their parents, said Chan, who now spends most of his time giving coding workshops.

“There aren’t enough people like me to make more people like Manoj,” Chan said.

“And we can’t just wait for the schools and government to begin their initiatives,” he added, referring to the recent initiative by the Education Ministry to teach coding in schools.

The main challenge, Chan said, would be parents’ awareness of coding education.

“Even MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) faces trouble with spreading awareness,” he said. “What we need is for parents to understand that programming and coding is something any child can learn.

“There’s even an 11-year-old Indian boy in Puchong who codes. He’s lucky to have the resources, platform, and understanding parents.”