Founder of CodeMakers, Nikki Durkin, talks about the gifts she’s coded for her family, and shares some simple tools that students can use to make great Christmas apps for their loved ones.

When I was a teenager I used to make all of my Christmas gifts. It was my favourite time of year. I had this craft book of 101 different gift ideas, and each year I would select something for every member of my family and spend my December holidays creating all my presents. My uncle always got marinated olives, my aunty usually got hand-made bath bombs and my grandparents usually received oil paintings of animals.

When I taught myself to code by making iPhone apps in Objective C, I thought it would be fun and kinda silly to make some Christmas apps as gifts for my siblings. I had this idea of making a ‘Drunken Callum’ game, where I’d place a silly cut-out photo of my 10-year-old brother’s head on a catapult, and then make him fling into the beer bottles to knock them over and earn points.

To build this game, I learned a new gaming engine called Cocos2D. I made all the graphics from scratch, taking photos of my brother’s college dormitory and recreating their college’s hallway in the game. I took photos of his friends and had them popping their heads in and out of the scene.

The finished product was really great! My brother thought it was the coolest thing ever, and he was snapchatting it to all his friends. I ended up re-skinning the game and giving my sister something similar, and she absolutely loved it too!

From then on I would regularly make apps for gifts. Here are some screenshots of a Father’s Day Game I made for my dad, where he’d have to navigate his head through the obstacle course a la Flappy Bird, and collect his favourite ‘I heart Dad’ mug. He could also collect little ‘Reasons Why I Love You’ notes along the way, which made the game extra special.

Christmas apps

Nikki made an app for her Dad on Father’s Day using photographs of her family.

When I started teaching teens to code, most of the projects we’d make were gifts. Girls especially responded to this type of project.

The gifts don’t have to be games – even websites or little Christmas apps can work too. Here’s a project that my students coded in a full-day workshop using Framer.


The personal nature and sheer silliness of gifts is what makes them so appealing. Your students can be creative with the graphics, pulling in real photos of their friends pulling silly faces. You’ll frequently get students looking over each other’s shoulder and roaring with laughter when they manage to make their friend’s cut out head bounce across the screen.

And for the entrepreneurial kids, they can actually sell these gifts. They are so novel and fun that people will pay money for them (I used to sell them as a side business, so I know this to be true). Once you’ve written the code for one game it’s quite quick to just change the graphics to suit someone else. Plant that idea in your student’s mind and you might see some budding entrepreneurs take advantage of it.

– Nikki Durkin, Founder of CodeMakers


Christmas apps

Nikki is a young entrepreneur who started her first successful online business at 15. At 18 she started 99dresses – an online fashion trading platform for women. During her journey she was accepted into Y-Combinator (the #1 startup accelerator in the world), raised money from prominent Silicon Valley investors, moved her company to New York, and experienced a myriad of startup ups and downs. After 99dresses, Nikki moved back to Australia to found CodeMakers – a virtual coding school for kids.

If you’d like to get in touch with Nikki, please email