Jonathan Squirrell Wins Award for Asia Pacific’s Next Top Coder
Jonathan Squirrell from Kingsway School in Auckland has triumphed in the Next Top Coder competition with his exceptional entry featuring a Roman triumph ceremony created in Minecraft.
Taking third place in the international Minecraft competition, Jonathan competed against other students from around the world aged 13 – 19 who are keen to hone their coding skills. Jonathan was invited to Microsoft House in Auckland to tour the Xbox room and demonstrate his award-winning world before being awarded his prize. All top three place-getters received a career coaching programme, Lenovo Star Wars™: Jedi Challenges box set and Empire Code micro:bit device.
Demonstrating his creation, Jonathan said he was inspired by the Horrible Histories series of books by author Terry Deary. ‘I like Horrible Histories, particularly the Rotten Romans one, which is what I based my triumph creation on.’ This is a comprehensive and imaginative rendition of a Roman triumph ceremony, traditionally held to celebrate a military commander who had led Roman forces to victory in battle. Jonathan’s version came complete with processions of trumpeters (although Jonathan said Minecraft did not yet have trumpets) and sacred cows (or in this case Minecraft llamas).
Jonathan has autism, and Jonathan’s mother, Dr Judi Squirrell, spoke about how important these sorts of successes and competitions were to show positive stories for the autistic community.
‘It’s fabulous to celebrate Jonathan’s achievement in this competition,’ said Judi. ‘As an autistic young man Jonathan has had a love of Minecraft for a number of years. He uses it to express his creativity and it is a great vehicle for socialising with other people. This competition gave him the opportunity to use coding, to show his creative skills and quirky sense of humour.’
Jonathan’s humour was on display even in the response to his win. When asked for his address he gave it with the additional details as follows: New Zealand, Pacific, Earth, The Solar System, Orion Arm, Milky Way, Local Cluster, The Universe.
‘As part of the prize, Jonathan was given a tutorial with a Microsoft consultant in Singapore,’ Judi said. ‘When we discussed that Jonathan was on the autism spectrum, this was met with understanding and practical help which was so refreshing. The way that Microsoft is recognising the skills and gifts which are out there among our autistic community is encouraging, ground breaking and a much-needed ray of hope.’
The competition was a partnership between Microsoft and Empire Code, designed to show creative flair and technical coding skill, to build upon other coding initiatives such as Hour of Code and CS ED Week. Entrants were invited to create a Minecraft world enhanced with code. Each needed to reflects a period of time in history, using Minecraft: Education Edition and Microsoft MakeCode for Minecraft. Educators, non-profits and students registering for the competition had access to online training videos and resources.
Presenting Jonathan with his award, Microsoft New Zealand Enterprise Director, Vanessa Sorenson, said: ‘It’s thrilling to see our technology being used to exercise people’s creativity, especially young people like Jonathan. Minecraft and competitions like this are really the great intersect of creativity and technicality, so it’s so great to see Jonathan’s ideas brought to life in Minecraft. Sacred llamas and all!’