Young gun's path to becoming a web coding pro begins with play time

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 12:09am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 8:56pm

Like many teenagers, Ryan Lee Ging-dat enjoys hip hop and playing computer games. The 15-year-old Sha Tin College student also has a reputation for being something of a wunderkind for his abilities as a self-taught web developer.

He is familiar with common programming languages, such as HTML, CSS and PHP, and can use the MySQL open-source database management system. He was also in the team that won the best user interface or user experience award at April's Startup Weekend, an event designed to uncover new business ideas.

Ryan's adventures in coding started five years ago when his father bought him a laptop. Ryan fell in love with an online game soon afterwards. One of the most enjoyable aspects was building a personalised player profile. Every player wanted to make theirs the coolest résumé and Ryan was no different.

He knew nothing about coding at the time but had to learn if he wanted to build the profile he dreamed of.

"It was pretty cool to type stuff into the computer and have it displaying on the screen. So I looked more and more into web development sites, which is how I got started," he says.

Since then, Ryan has not only become the brains behind the website for his school fun fair but has also published plug-ins for Minecraft, a popular game.

Inspired by Twitter and Facebook, he went on to develop a social media site, OpenSpace, which is used by hundreds of students from his school. At Startup Weekend, Ryan's team developed the Be Mei interactive website that provided information on plastic surgery clinics in South Korea.

Each time he took on a project, Ryan picked up a different programming language. By running tests on his father's smartwatch, he learned the coding language called C, for example.

"I have never taken any coding classes … basically, every time I learn something it is because I really need it. I'll go online and look it up," says Ryan, who delivered a presentation of his learning journey at last month's TEDxEd talks.

"Find out why you want to learn first. If you know why you're doing it, you'll slowly build up your skills along the way."

He says the freedom his parents offer to explore different interests has helped accelerate his learning. "It's not like, 'Hey you. Go learn programming. Go do it now'," he says.

Beginners may find coding difficult to grasp but Ryan urges them to keep going. At the end of the day, "you may not be the best programmer but you'll still be able to type a few lines of code", he says. Novices might like to visit sites such as to learn more about JavaScript, and to better understand the HTML language used to write web pages.

"It's really about the method of learning rather than how much you actually learn and how good you get at it," he says.