Festival of Code 2015, 7th one: a synopsis… the legacy

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.

Fun facts:

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.
win animated GIF
Here is a link to all that was made: http://hacks.youngrewiredstate.org/events/festival-of-code-2015 The semi finalists and winners will be displayed in the hacks app shortly, but we had a small laptop incident that means we have not been able to have the smooth transition to the 2016 sign up and 2015 synopsis – this will come. (But you can still sign up through here for 2016 registration news, as a mentor, YRSer, volunteer or centre).

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.

YRS_1Aug_009YRS_1Aug_030

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
The YRSers own it, this is about them, and the ambition for the Festival is that it is totally supported by them. We will be their backbone, their champions – but the alumni will smash this. This is the legacy.
Please help us fund 2016 with the donation links on the website: it costs a lot to make this a free event for every child, and the work starts now for 2016.

Silicon Valley comes to life at the Festival of Code

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.

30% girls at the Festival of Code: 4 ways we did this

To follow on from the story about how to put girls off from programming and technology … here’s what we did to fix it

  1. Make it as mainstream as possible, more Festival of building digital stuff plus fun
  2. Have plenty to do that everyone can share e.g. photobooth, sprint challenges, maker fairs, graffiti wall, next gen tech
  3. Watched what everyone loved and did more of that, watched what made them yawn, did less of that
  4. 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

How to put girls off programming and tech — the easy way

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 :)

Can Greece become a Rewired State?

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 nat@rewiredstate.org with the Subject line: Rewired Greece and I will send you details of the event when I have an idea of numbers.

#CarswellWatch

Here is my theory:

Douglas Carswell is a good man and a great politician. He has thought deeply about what he believes in and what the future might hold for democracy. He wrote his book: The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy after many years of thinking. He thought so deeply and could find no party to match his ideals exactly. In the end I believe that he wanted his own party and had a choice, influence a party, rebrand it and bring his own policies to bear; or start a new one. I think he is cuckooing UKIP. I think he may well be the sleeper we hope is out there.

How I came to this view tl:dr

Cheezburger animated GIF

In the olden days when he was in opposition he came to the same fringe events Tom Watson MP (who was in power at the time) attended. He would chat to the civic tech community and shared his views on democracy. So it started there, I had a chat with him once, in about 2006 I think, next to an assembly stage in some school. I liked his rhetoric, even if I did not agree with all of it.

Then he wrote his book, I read it and then read lots more, but his book was one of the most interesting.

When I was a commissioner on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, he came and gave evidence and he was very compelling, alongside Jim Knight – they were a dream team.

THEN!!!

On my way to visit my Dad, I was listening to the radio and heard that he had defected from the Tories to UKIP. Now I am not a Tory, I am a died in the wool Labour woman, but this coming within weeks of his commission evidence. I was like…

Then on the way home I was thinking, what on earth would make a clever politician do this? And the ONLY reasonable explanation was that he was being a cuckoo. I have told few about this theory, but this news today backs up my theory.

Watch this space #carswellwatch

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