“… for a girl”

I had a sickening realisation recently about an ex. When I first met him (in an iphone queue for the next amazing iteration) we did the “What do you do” convo and I was working in gov then, at the Home Office in *quite a senior* role and he said: “oh a real job”… I fell in love with him on the spot because I thought he meant compared to his – in banking. But time would teach me he meant: for a girl

June 2014

Coding girls: in their own words

This post is about coding/geekery and girls. Yes, that much-hectored subject that we love and loathe to discuss. I would like to share four short videos with you from our YouTube channel that I think contain some very simple facts about learning programming, to help inform those who are focusing on bringing more girls into this field. They were all filmed at this year’s Young Rewired State: Festival of Code and our first Young Rewired State event in New York City; they are only a few snatched minutes, but the girls (of varying ages) are consistent in their message.

At the end of this post I have listed what I took from these, but obviously you are free to draw your own conclusions and I hope that by getting this stuff on camera, it helps raise awareness and understanding of what really matters.

Here is 16 year old Emma Corlett, this is her second year at the Festival of Code:

Introducing Nadine Shaalan, NYC, aged 15

Amy Marshall aged 11 shares her thoughts and a small dance…

Finally the lovely Jenny Lea (16) I dare you not to be at least smiling by the end of this video…

Here are the highlights for me from what they are saying:

  • it’s a useful skill for future jobs, even if not in tech
  • it is more a life skill/interesting skill to have
  • the community is the best thing about being with other kids who are discovering coding
  • the other kids are not weird
  • it’s free to learn and peer-to-peer is an effective way to get to know whatever you might choose to learn
  • it’s not a MASSIVE thing, but it is fun so why not?

“Why not?” is the persistent message, but keeping it social is important too.

These interviews are available thanks to the inspiration of Gemma Cocker from Rosy Cheeks Productions, our forever champion and a great film-maker, who roamed free and asked some great questions of the young people we had at the Festival. 

Open communities, kids and coding and people

I opened my mail today (I try to only do this once a month) and I saved the largest until last. How exciting I thought. Then I saw this:

With an accompanying letter for the press and sentence about how the trade name belongs to P&M Brannigan.

Conflicted I was. Had P&M Brannigan not turned out to be three people who attended the Coding for Kids meet that Katy and I ran last year, (a mother, father and son), I suspect I would have hit the phones and the roof, but they are, and Paul is marketing this with his 10 year old son fronted as the “CEO”, so you can’t be too harsh on the child! Indeed, But yet… wtf?!

Katy and I had a chat about it and wrote an email to the Coding for Kids google group, which by no means includes everyone, so I want to be clear that we have not published this, it is nothing to do with Coding for Kids – indeed they are using the name without any discussion, agreement or acknowledgment.

The email is pasted below:

Hello lovely community!

Katy and I are very very slowly getting our stuff together. We’ve been working away behind the scenes to try get some money to develop the programme (we’re currently speaking to NESTA and Nominet who are keen to support us) and create resources for you to draw on. As soon as we have some news (hopefully very soon) we will be in touch, however I just wanted to raise one point.

Today I opened a large and exciting letter to receive a book published by one of you, trading under the name P&M Branningan Publishers using the trading name Coding for Kids books. Images attached. The Coding for Kids name/header and colour use is terribly familiar! (http://rewiredstate.org) We have not trademarked the Coding for Kids name yet – on purpose as we consider this a community movement and community owned project. We will look to do this once we’ve finished working on this initial stage, getting frameworks established within which you could all happily share the brand and expertise.

We do feel like it is in breach of the spirit of the community to take the Coding for Kids brand and use it for commercial projects. And especially to trademark it as your own without any acknowledgment of the CfK community or provenance.

In the spirit of keeping everything open, for helping each other learn, share and grow through the power of community with a shared goal – please could you respect the principles of openness and operate with kindness.

Do let us know if you have any questions and we’ll be back soon with more news about funding, resources and next steps.

Katy and Emma
It is a huge shame when things go like this, but in the open org, open community world of course these things will happen. But luckily the majority of the time they don’t.
I hope Mark (10) is enjoying writing the rest of the books in his series, we know it is hard to do great things in this world – we know this from our years of very hard work often for free and certainly for free with regards to Coding for Kids!
Time to move on, a little bit sadder than this morning.

Lazy, layabout teens

Yesterday I received this email from a YRSer – they are happy for this to be published but I have removed all references in the email that might identify this person. I am publishing it for several reasons:

1. to get the help asked for from a wider community than just me

2. to show the kind of dilemma our students are facing

3. to give Universities/Google a chance top snap this person up

Email copy starts here:

I am studying Biology Chemistry Physics and Maths with Mechanics at A level (Year 13- upper sixth).

This year, I attended YRS and won a prize, I also won an award at the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge.

At GCSE I recieved A*A*A*AAAAAAABB.

Computing in general was only really ever been a hobby for me – I decided against a degree in the area after taking DiDa at GCSE, which was a real trainwreck of a GCSE course, focusing more on secretarial skills than what I was interested in. I left with an A in the subject and the assumption that I had misconceptions about IT as a career. I had tried to really show my skills through the course’s website topic where candidates produced a web-page (though not hosted) to log their work, but the course wasn’t looking for the skills I had. At the time I knew VB, Javascript, C++, HTML, some PHP, and basic Python.

I was always interested in the sciences, and after taking some work experience, decided firmly on Medicine as a future career.

I didn’t do as well in my AS levels as I was expected to. I have a short history of underperforming relative to my skills in a given subject, but was naïve enough to assume it wouldn’t affect my AS results, though I think this can be remedied.
I took Biology, Maths, Chemistry and Physics respectively.
I believe these grades can be remedied, and after sorting myself out and really applying myself, I believe I can achieve A*AAB (or similar) at A level, please forgive me if I sound arrogant – I am really intending to work hard this academic year through retakes in January and Christmas.

This, of course has the potential to get me into medicine once I have picked myself up, but after this I see things in a different light and am having second thoughts for medicine as a career.

YRS was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever undertaken – before this I felt all IT jobs (aside from the legendary Google jobs) were writing simple, static programs for big companies in C, or inaccessible to me. I was really looking for a job where I could be challenged with problems to solve (which drew me to medical diagnostics), but I met lots of interesting people who were working on equally interesting problems including an IBM employee working on a web spidering project who I discussed Machine Learning with (I am taking an online Introduction to Machine Learningcourse at Stanford university), and the man who wrote the very popular National Rail iPhone application, and made a similar train tracker.

As things are going I will probably end up at a fork in a road when I reapply to university next year, but having never considered this area as a future career, and not knowing anyone who works in this area I am lost. I understand there are many computer related IT courses, of which I know Computer Science, Software Architecture and Computing, but I don’t know which one is what I would like to go into, or even if I have what is necessary to get into the business.

I would be very thankful if you could answer a few questions I have:

  • What IT related course should I take, or- how do I decide on one?
  • How difficult is it to work at Google? What path would I take?
  • What should I do to increase my chances of admission?
  • Do I have what it takes to do a course, if not, what should I do?
  • What areas, in your opinion, would I be interested in?
  • What sort of work would I be doing?

Paragraph Seven

So imagine a world where we had managed to delete the contracts of the people who charged over a million to execute a back button on Directgov (yes) plus untold numbers of stories of traditional ICT organisations ripping off government. All those very ICT contracts that we railed against and celebrated the fact that we finally had a government willing to put an end to this nonsense. And the very reasoned arguments for kids and coding. And then let’s see what happens.

Here is paragraph seven of the Wired Article on where we are now and the ‘good news’ of the day:

An E-skills UK partnership between major companies including IBM, the BBC, Capgemini, Cisco, Deloitte, HP and Microsoft, have teamed up to reinvigorate the IT curriculum and GCSE and A-level.  The companies will provide online resources, expert advice and Industry-based challenges to encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and team work.

I see you and your consultancy revenue based organisations, and I raise you a network of 100s of kids through YRS who will not be fooled (see what they did when I once got the wrong people in front of them?)

and a network of 100s of Rewired State developers who have no truck with your efforts that are based purely in profit margins and not the real issues this country faces. I also think I can raise you a country full of people fed up with your kind of ransom. With the exception of Microsoft and Ben Nunney (the enthusiastic one in the image above), every organisation named should be held to account for the money they have charged the taxpayer, as well as the disservice they have paid to the computer programmer.

The fact that government now holds this up as a success story sickens me. Are we really measuring our success by romancing the endorsement and fake charity of these named organisations? Let me point you for a second over here: http://rewiredstate.org/blog/2011/09/nurturing-our-own-talent I can assure you that pretty much every one (except Microsoft) told me to bugger off, or maintained a stony silence.

I see your hand and I raise you our country

Digital humanity

This morning I left my smart phone at home. Realising half way to the station, and in a rush as I had a meeting I *had* to be at, I could not screech back to collect it. I mentally scanned through the things I needed my mobile for… dammit, how was I going to be able to park? Where I park my car (a council carpark) they insist on you paying through an outsourced telephone service: you call, book the car in for a number of hours or days, pay and go – it is all automated and generally a good thing (I think). However, in this instance, I had to accept that I was going to get a parking ticket for today.

Then I thought that perhaps I could call the Council as soon as I got into work and explain what has happened, perhaps pay them directly over the phone for the day, or  pay tomorrow for an extra day to cover today, even though I would not use it. Something like that – anything to avoid the annoyance and high price of a parking ticket. (When it came to it, I didn’t but it did get me thinking.)

I feel I can pretty much get away with the sweeping statement that everyone is needing to hold back on unnecessary expense and save the pennies that they can, certainly avoid additional costs such as fines. You could say that we should therefore be far more vigilant about the tools for doing so – like remembering mobile phones – but when we don’t, wouldn’t it be so much better for the Nation’s collective blood pressure if we could just telephone a human and explain exactly what has happened and find a way to rectify the mistake that perhaps does not incur an automatic fine.

In this financially woeful time, when very few are left unaffected by less money being available, and the resulting stress; what we all begin to value is humanity and community. At the same time businesses, service providers and governments look for ways to save vast swathes of money and naturally test the digital delivery waters, to see if there are any substantial savings to be made.

For the less digitally savvy it is very easy to be swept away with the ease of construction of service delivery tools, ways of (on paper) cutting out expensive staff costs and saving quantities of time. Whilst it is true that savings can be made and that consumers are becoming used to expecting there to be a digital option for pretty much everything – it is a mistake to cut out humanity completely. It is the kind of counter-productive behaviour that makes people very cross and frustrated, normally in times of deep stress or just general state of worry such as we find ourselves in today.

I admit that a parking ticket is not that dramatic, but that is not really the point. The point is that it illustrates a very small example of a problem that, if magnified, quickly becomes a substantial customer relations/satisfaction issue. In the world we find ourselves in at the moment business, service providers and governments cannot afford to have deeply unhappy and frustrated people – ones who genuinely will break if they have to find that extra 3/30/300/3000 quid; emotions are fragile and people depend on the understanding of others in order to resolve problems that work for everyone and break no one.

Digital solutions may well be a great idea for automating some services and making everyone’s lives easier, saving time when staff are suffering under headcount culls and having to do a lot more work during the course of their day, or customers are needing to get access to information quickly and easily, or fill in a form, anything – it is pretty easy to identify those things that can be better processed by a computer than a human. But we should not forget the natural state of worry and concern the majority of people will be feeling whilst money is universally tight – and snatch away the humanity of our respective business, services and governments.

During purdah

The period of time from when an election is announced until after the election is held has
been known as ‘purdah’ but is now more often referred to as the pre-election period.
There are guidelines for civil servants for what they can and cannot do during purdah – updated guidance due out imminently details rules with social media.
Now, I am not a civil servant but am currently contracted to the Home Office and often speak of work here and on my twitter stream, and I am expected to abide by the same rules as everyone else.
In light of all this, and the mounting ‘to do’ list, I am going to be spending purdah off twitter and not blogging.
Back after May 6th.

My mate Mick

I am re-posting this post, as he is very much on my mind.

My mate Mick is brilliant. He works hard and adores his son: Sonny

Mick and Sonny

He loves his food plain, and is quite a pain about it, his favourite meal is steak and chips, (any whiff of salad or garnish and he won’t eat it) with a beer and maybe a sambucca later ;) Once I made him eat my avocado ice cream – quite gross – but he managed a bit (result) ever since he has been a bit tentative:

Mick pudding

He makes shutters (not blinds) and owns this company.

He adores my girls, and often confuses Amy with his mate ‘Brian’, as he says that she looks exactly like him – much to her annoyance (although she has got used to answering him when he calls her Brian).

Mick and the girls

He taught Amy how to skim stones:

Amy and Mick

When we go on holiday, he likes to enjoy himself:

Mick bombing

He loves his music, all big band stuff: Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack being a fave; every song was his and Penny’s (his wife): ‘Pen, Pen.. it’s our song: quick!’

Mick and Pen

He is generous to a fault, a genuinely lovely bloke who I honestly get excited about seeing, any evening or holiday when Mick is involved is going to be fabulous. I am constantly amazed and proud of his dedication to his family and pals. He’s never online, he is too busy with helping out with stuff… or watching rugby :)

Love him…

Mick dropped down dead, literally, Friday 13th February 2009. I wanted to share him with you in lieu of the last conversation I wish I could have with him. Bye, Mick, there is a flipping massive hole in the world now and I know you would be a bit gobsmacked that I am doing this, but I miss you and want to celebrate your life xxx

Mick and us

Homework

There have been two publications this week that have caught my attention, and I have been a bit surprised by the lack of reaction to them. The first was from the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, entitled Power in people’s hands: learning from the world’s best public services and the second from the Lords Information Committee on creating connections between people and Parliament.

Power in people’s hands

This is a very interesting report, driven by the fact that there is just not a great deal of money about and a recognition that the way out of any recession is innovation. This is good news for everyone, it means we are going to get creative. Liam Byrne MP writes the foreword and says that ‘in the next decade we need to be radical about power; realistic about money; and relentless on innovation’. The report has shown that there is a worldwide shift of power from the State to the citizen, but what excites me most is that Mr Byrne has picked out freedom of information and data to be the UK’s pièce de résistance : ‘We aim to be world leaders in making information on services accessible’. OK his words are not quite so dramatic, but in Ministerial speak that is quite a statement, the stall he has set out is the information one – and that is a huge win for the UK. We have a wealth of entrepreneurial and geek talent ready and willing to take such information and help create services that work at hyper-local and individual level. (You might just have to trust me on this one).

I suggest you skim read the whole report, but I am just going to cut and paste the bits that jumped out for me below if you need further convincing:

Overall, the importance of public services is likely to grow rather than diminish. For example, sources of increasing wealth creation – such as the emerging low-carbon, life science and pharmaceutical, and digital industries – will create new opportunities. But every person, and the country as a whole, will only have the potential to benefit fully if they have access to excellent schools, training and employment services.

… stepping up the drive to improve value for money by taking hard decisions on priorities as needs change, redesigning services, sharing assets better and cutting bureaucracy.

And for you working in local government and devolved: more exciting news, this does recognise you are the front-liners:

In considering lessons, it is also important to recognise that the public services that are covered in this study are delivered by the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and by local authorities. It will be for these bodies to consider the most appropriate insights. At a time of necessary innovation, however, the best organisations look outward – for practices which can be replicated and to spark new ideas and challenge existing ways of thinking.

Here is the bit that interests me most, Chapter Two expands and I recommend that you read all of it if the following interests you slightly:

Empowering citizens in the information age

A revolution in the use and re-use of information on public services is being stimulated by new online technologies, giving the potential to empower citizens to hold services to account far more easily than in the past. The leading-edge systems, such as StateoftheUSA.org and data.gov, are not only disseminating information rapidly. They are also breaking down government monopolies on information presentation and use by making it easy for people to analyse information themselves. At the same time, blogs, wikis and other web 2.0 tools are enabling citizens to get more deeply involved in validating information and collectively making decisions. In Cologne, for example, participatory budgeting uses new technology to give citizens a stronger voice over how public money is spent.

The shift required for governments to enable such changes is cultural as much as technical. It is no coincidence that American public services have been at the forefront of these changes,  for they already had an understanding that all government information should be in the public domain. Government should, however, do more than just liberate information. The global leaders will be those who invest in ensuring that information is high-quality and balanced, can be shared through common standards and facilitates joint working by professionals and citizens.

Fascinated yet? Whole report here.

So Cabinet Office is saying it needs to get revolutionary on us… and now Parliament, specifically the House of Lords, agrees. For those of you not clear about the role of Parliament and the role of the Cabinet, let me grab some explanations for you: can’t use my own words as I may explain it wrong, so forgive the use of even more quotes.

The Cabinet Office aims to ensure that the Government delivers its priorities. It does this by supporting collective consideration of key issues by Cabinet and its Ministerial Committees, and by working with departments to modernise and co-ordinate government, aiming at excellence in policy making and responsive, high quality public services.

Parliament is an essential part of UK politics. Its main roles are:

  • Examining and challenging the work of the government (scrutiny)
  • Debating and passing all laws (legislation)
  • Enabling the government to raise taxes

*more detail on Parliament here

And so the fact that the House of Lords has come to a similar conclusion about its own work is equally as important.

Creating connections between people and Parliament

The report has been written by the Information Committee which ‘considers the House’s information and communications services’. The report has the tagline: are the Lords listening; and if you read my explanation of the difference between Parliament and Cabinet then perhaps it is important to us that they are. The report is in such an easy to use format that it negates the need for me to pull out the interesting bits. Go and read it here it seriously is a very important report. You could just read Chapters 3 and 4 if like me you are most interested in communication and data, but I don’t recommend it (read it all!).

CHAPTER 3: ONLINE COMMUNICATION AND ENGAGEMENT

CHAPTER 4: SETTING PARLIAMENTARY DATA FREE

And of course, always the best bit, the list of recommendations:

CHAPTER 11: SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTIONS

Especially good is this one:

We recommend that information and documentation related to the core work of the House of Lords (including Bills, Hansard, transcripts of public committee meetings, evidence submitted to committees, committee reports, records of divisions, expenses and the register of Lords’ interests) should be produced and made available online in an open standardised electronic format that enables people outside Parliament to analyse and re-use the data.

I am not sure that I need to conclude this post other than to say I hope that I have helped you find two very interesting reports! And apologies if I bored you…

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