It is usually about this time every year when I give bigger news than normal, and this is no exception! You may recall a few years ago I announced that I was stepping down as CEO of Rewired and Young Rewired State and moving to the board, and for the last two years we have been shaping the incredible organisation that is Rewired State, and working out how to scale Young. So… first things first:
Rewired State – the smart data agency
I cannot really put into words how proud I am of the achievements of this community of developers. Over the last seven years we have fought for and won many a battle for open data in public services (not alone of course, but with a small crew of like minded enterprises). Our move over into the commercial sector after we left our Guardian incubator was a forbearer of the greater acceptance and understanding of big data, and we began to realise true ROI for our clients.
Our brand remains resolutely strong with provenance, successful/beautiful disruption and a growing community of data designers, scientists, developers and thought-leaders.
The culmination, I guess you could say, of these last two years of really thinking about the positioning of Rewired State as we move forward is a full pivot with a clear focus on our core competencies in smart data, fully supported by our senior team leaders, the community and the Board.
We have brought in a strong commercial director: Joe Clark, who will steer future growth. I continue to work closely with Joe as Founder and Board Director, alongside my colleagues and the community. Check out our VD01 website over here and let us know if you would like to engage with this new, beautiful version of my first baby! I am ridiculously proud of it.
Young Rewired State
As those of you who know me know, this has always been my passion: this group of self taught programmers, giving them a community, real world challenges and introducing them to open data. So many of these alumni remain a part of my life and I feel like some kind of geeky Godmother most days!
It is testament to its success that it has grown to become this International community of thousands of young developers, mentors and alumni – it almost has a life of its own without anything we do centrally! However, we have a duty of care, and it is that duty that has led us to focus once again on how best to scale and fund what we do.
Now that Rewired State has completed its pivot and is already storming through with some fantastic clients and partners, it is time to lift up the hood of Young Rewired, and see how we can really enable and support scale.
We have been incredibly lucky an have been able to second the services of Oliver Wyman for a six week strategic review, looking at other ways talent is scaled internationally in other sectors, and how we might apply this to YRS. I am confident that together we will find a scalable solution to allow the developer in every child find a community, a network and future to be excited about.
This does mean that for the rest of this year, activity at the heart of YRS will be limited to supporting ongoing activities and focused on scale and funding the future. The senior management team are in discussions with some key partners for potential delivery of the Festival of Code 2016 – but those discussions are still in flow and I am unlikely to have any news on the Festival in 2016 until the end of February.
Well – I cannot tell you how ridiculously exciting the last couple of months have been – if not a little busy! I was contacted out of the blue to see if I would consider meeting with Natalia Vodianova and her team running Elbi Digital – an organisation focused on enabling everyday philanthropy. The brilliant (and kind) Joanna Shields had suggested I do so, and Eugenia Makhlin took up the challenge (she is the outgoing CEO – off to have baby number two and help steer this from the board). #womenintechnology
Natalia is a very determined lady and has already achieved an incredible amount with her Naked Heart Foundation in Russia and Elbi is her latest genius idea – to break open philanthropy and put it in the hands of all of us, in smart, beautiful and delightful ways.
Obviously this plays directly to my own personal core values and ‘things that push my buttons’. And over a long afternoon spent with Natalia and ginger tea in Paris last year, I fell in love with Elbi.
To my absolute delight, surprise and spine-tingling pleasure, I was invited to come on board as the new CEO, to bring all of the shutzpah (well, JFDI) and lessons I have learned about breaking things better from the last seven years with Rewired and Young, adding Elbi to my stable of passions!
And so it begins. I have just stepped in as CEO of Elbi Digital, our first product is live in MVP already (since late last year), go check it out on the app store (hunt for Elbi) and we will be rolling out version 1 this Spring and then the really special magic begins to happen.
Natalia has great vision, and it is truly humbling, inspiring and an incredible opportunity to be working with her, and I look forward to introducing her into the technology world we inhabit over the coming years.
Here is to the next stage of everything! I am so happy and really am thankful for all of the opportunities I get, and grateful to the massive support of those communities I am lucky enough to be a part of.
Happy New Year everyone
If you liked that, you might like the talk I did specifically about the 97ers last year at TEDxBrum
I am going to try to cram 1200 kids, 400 mentors, 70 centre leads, 50 volunteers, 200 parents and five (yup only five) full time staff’s work at this year’s Festival write-up. A challenge – but not one as great as the one we set the 1200 kids: build something digital in a week (even if you have only just started learning to code) with only one rule: you *must* use open data. (The open data rule goes back to the origins of the Festival, where we set out to let young people know about the data government was opening on data.gov.uk back in 2009).
So please bear with me and grab a cuppa – this post will take a while to navigate, you may need to come back later.
Firstly, here is a medium post of what it is like during the week from one of our regular (and ace) centres: Lives not Knives, and how being a mentor this last week has helped her come to a decision about her career, post-Uni. How lucky the world is that this indecisive, brilliant lady has chosen a career working with young people.
We were covered on BBC Breakfast, BBC lunchtime news at one, 5Live, BBC Bews at 6 and Newsnight at the beginning of the week. The finale was covered by ITV News on Sunday. And Mike Butcher (a semi-final judge) wrote this on TechCrunch.
1200 young people aged 7-18 took part
32% were female
The semi-finalists, finalists and winners are listed here and the finalists videos can be watched here (please like your favourite one as they will win a prize)
For all the different hashtags on Twitter and Instagram we had:
- 11968 posts by 1804 users
- Total reached: 4,299,775 people <- MILLIONS!
- Total impressions: 25,909,753 <- MILLIONS!
- 65% male users and 35% female users (32% of the Festival participants were female, so this reflects that)
- The biggest surge of tweets was between 11am and 1pm on Sunday where we had around 2000 posts. (that’s the finale)
- The most commonly used hashtag in addition to one associated with the festival was #watttheduck
- The most tweeted centre was #FoCHighbury
- We had tweets from all over the world, with the UK, US and Ireland being top of the list.
Paul Clarke, a photographer of huge renown, covered the Festival for us and captured every moment of joy and trepidation – you can see the photos here, they are available on CC license but obviously please don’t take the mick and if using for anything give Paul the appropriate props in the tags and attributions. It is testament to his talent that his tweet with the photographs is the top tweet on the #FoC2015 hashtag.
For me there were three defining moments of this Festival:
The first was when I was sitting at the information desk on Friday afternoon. We have registration open for six hours (it takes that long to process 1200 young people, plus their parents, mentors and centre leads into the weekend venue) – but the numbers of people signing in comes in waves, always has – we have people coming from all over. However, there is always a 4-5pm surge. During that surge, all I saw from my slightly nondescript desk and chair to the right of the escalators, was kids going “ARRRGGHHH” *running hug* “I cannot believe you are here! It’s been a year!!!!!” *bouncing hugs*. At one point, a brilliant brilliant young developer: Michael Cullum, who was at school with my daughter, saw her at registration and similarly did the running hug. It was a Festival of Code bundle, and I was pinching my arm not to cry at every reunion I witnessed.
The second defining moment for me was when I was standing slightly off stage at the end, watching the YRS Festival alumni judges. These were young people I have watched grow up and who are now too old to take part (19+), but who we chose to be the judges for their younger peers. They get it, they know what it takes, they understand what to reward and what to feedback. I sat in the judging room with our compere, Dallas Campbell – chatting about the death of Cilla Black – when the alumni judges all decided that feedback to every finalist was vital. They worked it out between them and I tried not to get emotional then. But when I stood there watching as the winners they selected were called to the stage, as they shook their hands and congratulated them – alumni to current participants – I have to admit I totally nearly lost it. But it was also a calm moment. I now know, that whatever happens – these kids have got it. Whatever we do or don’t do – the community owns this. My heart is literally bursting with pride for them.
The third was after it was all over and everyone was slowly exiting the finale space in the ICC, already drifting into mourning for the week, and two Mums of YRSers (parents *have* to accompany their children to the weekend if the kids are 13 or under) and they suggested that the next time we give the parents a chance to hack something over the weekend for them to surprise the kids with – a parents’ race, if you like (a whole other blog post). What a genius thing that we had never thought of. But perfect, so yes, something we will work on.
I am going to leave this update with a Facebook post written by Harry Rickards for all YRSers. Harry is an alumnus who came to Young Rewired State (YRS) in 2012, and is now studying at MIT. I cannot say any more – over to you, Harry:
Words are hard, but now I’m finally out of the yearly YRS sleep coma I’ll give it a try. You all are awesome. Seriously. Most of your mates spent half the week sleeping and half the week drinking in parks, and you spent the week making amazing amazing things. I say it every year but I 100% promise it’s true: every year I’m amazed by how much better the hacks have got. Seeing you all, both young and old, up on stage presenting things most professional devs could only dream of making in a week is awe-inspiring.At MIT you feel like you’re around future billionaires, future tech leaders, future everything-awesomes. YRS is this but better. Go change the world! To those who just graduated, don’t think your journey is over! Come back as a mentor/volunteer/judge, get scared at how good the kids are, and have an even more fun time partying the evenings away (because none of you have been doing that as participants ofc), watching Robert dance and Alexander use a knife like he’s from the North. Despite the road-rage journey from hell with James and Shad this weekend (I think we might get PTSD from the M40…) and Neena‘s apparent misundersanding of the concept of private property, this weekend was one of the most fun I’ve had in a while (and I’m not even gonna attempt to tag you all).Just please please please don’t let the cool kids party be at a goddamn Spoons 3 nights in a row next year. To the YRS organizers you’re the most amazing people ever. I’m sure your jobs are a trillion times harder than I think they are, and I already have no idea how you manage. YRS changed my life in so many ways: it made me get into programming and set me off into a path leading to MIT, it let me meet the best friends, and it hella inspired me. Trying not to sound like a cliched US politician (after all, thanks to YRS there’s now an app for that…), seeing the presentations and the excitement and the atmosphere and everything this weekend gave me faith in humanity.I’m by no means alone here, so keep changing lives! Now enough with the rambling and (well-deserved) superlatives and onwards to next year. I don’t see how it’s possible, but I’m sure it’ll end up being even bigger, better, more fun, world-changing, etc. And with any luck (pending the Administration’s bureaucracy) we’ll have an MIT centre over in Boston next year! #FoC2015#BestHashtag#WorldDomination
For those of you who have seen the series: Silicon Valley, that parodies the culture of Silicon Valley: “Making the world a better place” (when in fact they rarely are); you may be familiar with the final episode of series 1, where the eclectic bunch of developers we follow throughout the series go to demo their hack at TechCrunch Disrupt.
As they take the stage, nerves are visible and code is broken and the judges are skeptical. Nothing goes according to plan but as they stumble through their presentation, slowly the penny drops in the audience, and by the end – with a naturally relieved group of presenters quivering on stage – everyone is speechless at what they have actually managed to do.
I have always loved this episode, because I recognise in those characters all of the passion, humility and slightly baffled genius that is in evidence every year at the Young Rewired State: Festival of Code.
And so this year, we are thrilled beyond measure that Mike Butcher, Editor at Large for TechCrunch, has agreed to be a semi final judge on Saturday afternoon, and to advise the judging panel (made up entirely of alumni) on the Sunday.
It is a delicious moment and one that make me proud, and I am sure pleases Mike hugely.
Good luck to all the Festival of Code participants – I cannot wait to see you on stage at the weekend, and to see who the judges choose as the best developers seen this year.
To follow on from the story about how to put girls off from programming and technology … here’s what we did to fix it
- Make it as mainstream as possible, more Festival of building digital stuff plus fun
- Have plenty to do that everyone can share e.g. photobooth, sprint challenges, maker fairs, graffiti wall, next gen tech
- Watched what everyone loved and did more of that, watched what made them yawn, did less of that
- Use social media channels such as Vine, Snapchat and Instagram
One thing to note, that has helped us grow from 2% to 30% in seven Festivals. When girls come back, they bring their mates (in most cases). When boys come back they don’t (in most cases).
It is about changing the culture, not bullying the girls.The Festival of Code runs form July 27th to August 2nd information here
Back in 2012, I wrote a post that is a much longer version of this, it is still true and people are still doing this. Well done!
Every year we have one major focus for the Festival of Code in addition to the overall plan: introducing young programmers to open data and each other. In 2012 I decided I would try to really focus on the issue of the pitifully small number of girls in tech and specifically girls applying to join in the Festival.
In previous years we have struggled enough trying to find any child under the age of 18 who could programme, let alone deal with the girl thing. Yet every year I come under heavy criticism for not having enough girls there and no matter how many times you say: ‘it is not for want of trying‘, there is only so much defending you can do before really trying to *do* something.
Cue me in 2012.
Every media event, every radio broadcast, every TV split-second and every speaking opportunity, blog post or “fireside chat” that year I bemoaned the fact that so few girls sign up for the Festival of Code, and indeed how many of those who do sign up, tend to pull out at the last minute. I called for more girls: Welcome the girls, I cried — loudly! With a view to increasing our number from 5% to 30%. I wanted to draw the girls out, let them know about this, let their parents know — showcase and applaud them on the Young Rewired State platform — that year bigger and shinier than ever before…
I hope you can tell by now where I am going, but I am going to drag you through every painful penny-dropping moment so that you never make this mistake yourself, dear reader.
During an hour-long telephone conference call with some well-meaning people helping me ‘get more girls’, I found myself nodding along as ideas were discussed such as: you need to find some more “girly data”… like nursing, is there anything like that in data.gov.uk? I *actually* found myself questioning my data for pink subjects, oh my god, even I knew this was a spectacular low for me. At that point I began to question my focus and modus operandi for getting more girls. The MO being: shout more loudly in forums where girls and their parents might hear — that’ll work, that and pink data.
At this point I allowed myself the special treat of discovering how many girls we had that year. I had put off looking, focusing instead on the drive to get more girls, trying to build and extend the amount of time I took to do the percentages, so that I could give myself a little pat on the back when I saw the fruits of my work.
Guess what? The number of girls applying to the Festival that year … dropped. Girls were PULLING OUT!
Completely bamboozled as to why my monstrously massive effort to encourage girls into programming was failing, I began wringing my hands at public events. Not only were my efforts failing to increase the numbers, it was actively reducing the numbers who signed up — please help me, someone. Audiences chuckled and looked awkward, and I grew ever more concerned about this — what on earth was I doing wrong? Maybe I should wangle a slot on Woman’s Hour.
Through this trojan effort to get more girls I had the benefit of meeting lots of amazing people trying to redress the male/female balance in all sorts of walks of life — it had not ever been a raison d’être of mine.
Yet I do not mean to detract from the people who do so, it is an issue, yes, a worldwide issue and especially in programming/tech.
Through a charity we had worked with: Refugees United, I was introduced to the wonderful Kristen Titus, based in New York and running Girls who code. An ambitious programme and something I support hugely and wish we had here, big time. Kristen and I arranged a skype chat and riffed for an hour about how the UK and US were dealing with the broader issue of programming skills in a digital world with analogue schools and inevitably came back to my baffled moaning about how the number of girls had dropped this year — could I blame the Economic Crisis? Could Kristen find some anthropological reason why no girls were signing up? I mean… I made such an effort *sigh*
Kristen said this (ish, I cannot remember verbatim)
So you identified that the girls were not signing up in their teenage years as they have a greater need to fit in. You identified that the girls dropped out the closer the event got as they were concerned about being showcased and ‘outed’. You know, as a mother of two girls, that identity trumps everything… yet you chose to publicly out this problem, to use your public platform to draw a big red ring around the issue and then essentially dared girls to sign up — after you took your sweet time to turn that massive spotlight directly on them and them alone — in advance of the week? Hmm… I can’t think why… maybe you need more pink data…
I have to say that I lie quite appallingly here, Kristen was very kind in her gentle admonishment and practical advice, but this is what my brain finally said to me as she spoke. So thank you, Kristen, and sorry for completely bastardizing your observations!
Want to know what works? Next post :)
We owe Greece big time. We owe Greece for one of the greatest infrastructures upon which our societies have been formed: Democracy.
The irony is that it is because of Greece we are being given a cracking big mirror into why democracy based on land boundaries cannot and does not work.
I am sure many other people are having the same conversations I am: where are the multi-billionnaires so determined to “make the world a better place”? Were I a multi-billionnaire who would not miss 1.6bn I would definitely use it to buy Greece a year to work out how it is going to break itself better.
I don’t have 1.6bn, but if everyone who lived in a democracy gave a few pounds/euros/dollars we would quickly be there. Indeed, here is the Indiegogo crowdfunding page for doing just that (set up by a 29 year old from York).
But instead of asking for olive oil or something from Greece in return, let’s say it is our gesture of thanks to you for democracy.
In return we would like to work with the people of Greece to build a new democracy. That recognises the new world, the geographical borders that become more irrelevant every day, those inconsequential maps that are transcended by the digital Renaissance. We have a chance. A real chance. To rewire this. End the rhetoric. Enter the rubicon. And once again Greece can build the infrastructure of the future.
We cannot laugh it out of Europe as a massive failure. It has provided the basis upon which we stand and scorn. It is once again pivotal.
Here’s how I think it can be done:
For many years now many of us have been talking about how technology can save the world. Rewired State was born out of that rhetoric and its community of both young people and the civic techs. We wanted to break things better, find new ways of making all the stuff we were talking about become reality. Stop talking, start building.
For the past seven years we have been working with governments, Parliaments and industry applying the Boolean logic of “if this, then that” to real challenges and creating and launching real solutions.
We have led debates, found new ways of thinking about things and last year I spent much of it on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, examining what was happening worldwide and giving a baseline for a new form of engagement and representation.
But the Commission could not go far enough. It was bound by its terms. And what we found challenges representative democracy.
Now Greece is in crisis, and people are trying to fix it based on old paradigms and infrastructure that is no longer relevant anywhere.
Rewired State has the community, the connections and the experience to work with the young people, the civic tech community and democratic philosophers of Greece. Our extended community of civic tech organisations and democratic philosophers around the world can form Rewired Greece. In a year we can create a new system of democracy that insures the rest of the democratic world against suffering the way the Greeks have had to suffer.
Here are the actions:
1. Crowdsource the money on indiegogo but forgo the oil (yes — no demands for oil in return please gang! That’s the way wars start — even if it is olive)
2. Join Rewired Greece. I am going to be working on funding this and will host an evening for those who want to come and help work on next steps and making this real. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the Subject line: Rewired Greece and I will send you details of the event when I have an idea of numbers.