Buy yourself something pretty

Earlier this week I wrote about the wonderful story of raising the £20,000 needed for the hardship costs for kids joining in with YRS2012, I was overwhelmed by the number of people celebrating and joining in with that success – love it.

This week also marks the six months since I received the following email:

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have been nominated by Mark Surman to receive a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant to work with Young Rewired State.

It came out of the blue and was for $5,000. An amount that is enough to be excited about and feel like you just won something, but is not a scary sum with strings attached that adds to your endless list of deliverables.

This money came with no strings, I could do whatever I liked with it – so long as it was for Young Rewired State, of course, not red wine and taxis (well… ), I was to be open about the project (no change there!) and I was also able to use the Shuttleworth Foundation logo for the following six months on the YRS website. There was a request though that at the end of the six month period, receivers of this Flash Grant should write about how the grant helped them – so here I am.

Funnily enough the timing could not be more perfect. After raising the £20,000 for YRS2012 I have thought a lot about how exactly the right amount of money can be the difference between powering forward and screeching to a halt.

Meeting Mark

I had met Mark Surman, Executive Director at Mozilla, for the first time and for a very brief hour, about a month before this email from the Shuttleworth Foundation landed in my inbox.

I talked about Young Rewired State and Rewired State, he spoke about his plans for Mozilla and the education space.

We riffed about what really drove us, the passion we had for the potential for the open web, open data and open education. How young people were really growing up into an incredibly exciting world and that we were in the middle of that rennaissance period, it had arrived. We spent the hour we were speaking using everything we could find to draw all over, diagrams to show the patterns we were weaving in our minds of how this all fit together – all that lovely stuff.

[We did not write on bananas - this is just a brilliant picture]

But whenever Mark asked the more probing questions about how I thought I might achieve any of this, how YRS could scale, how my own personal enthusiasm could make any difference other than to those I directly affect – I was unsure. I could see the end game, I could sense the potential, it all felt right and I *knew* it was big – but I was not sure how I should play into that space and indeed if I should. I blustered and bluffed but I didn’t fool anyone.

I always knew that I would continue with YRS, regardless of anything, my heart lies in it, it is a wonderful thing, it will always benefit some people and I loved doing it – but was what I was doing enough?

Now I had never met Mark before, but I knew of him. I love Mozilla’s ethos and brand identity and Mark’s dude creds were formidable. I remember days and days of reading and following up on links he had recommended – it was just one of those moments, we all have them, a meeting where you come away just buzzing your tits off and with renewed enthusiasm and shutzpah.

The Shuttleworth Foundation

So then, a month (ish) later, I receive this Flash Grant and notification that Mark had recommended me for it. It was the combination of these two things that really turned things around, I believe, for Young Rewired State and its huge growth this year.

Since I received that email and proudly displayed the Shuttleworth funded logo on Young Rewired State I worked hard to focus my thoughts and plans. Because of the faith shown in me to really achieve something with Young Rewired State I felt almost like I had been dared to push the boundaries of what I hoped to achieve, to find a way to scale. For some reason this free money and this massive slap on the back gave me more motivation than anything in my entire life so far – I can’t explain that.

Scaling like a scaly thing

So this year Young Rewired State has grown from 100 young coders and 14 centres in the UK in August 2011, to 500 young coders and 50 centres.

This is an amazing jump but it is not the only change.

One of my favourite moments in YRS (and the same thing happens every year and makes me all emotional) is the moment the individual young developer walks into the centre on the Monday morning, not usually too much confidence knocking about and often used to coding alone in their spare time. They see ten other kids in the room. By the Tuesday they are shining, collaborating, learning, teaching, competing and getting excited. (At this point the emails usually start from parents, telling us how profound an effect even two days has had, the confidence, excitement and energy they see in their child – trust me, these emails floor us all, lots of gulping). Then on the Friday all of the centres come together for show and tell and they walk into a room of 100 other kids, exactly like themselves and their confidence and excitement shoots up to a whole other level.

By the time they finish watching and taking part in show and tell – a community is born and it is these moments that drive the YRS alumni to return year on year to foster and mentor the new YRSers.

Now I recognise that this is nothing whatsoever to do with me, this is just what happens when you create the right environment for this magic. That YRS does this, is happenstance, it was not concocted. But I also know that it is one of the most important things that happen during the week.

But what would happen if instead of only one crazy day of show and tell followed by a race for trains back to everywhere in the UK, these kids had more time together?

We did the only thing any sensible tiny organisation that runs on the smell of an oily rag could do and morphed that Friday show and tell into a weekend of coding and collaboration. A festival of code. We picked up the phone to the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park and asked them if they would mind if we camped on their lawns, and they were delighted, excited even!

The YRSers will pitch tents, code, have talks, eat pizza – they will also do their show and tells and battle to win prizes, fame and fortune – but they will be together from the Friday through the weekend.

What greater nod to scale can there be than finding that one thing that holds the magic in what you are doing, and making that better?

So whilst it is a huge thing for us to be hosting so many more young coders this year – the fact that at the end of their week of coding in centres across the country, the community gets two days instead of two hours together this year – that’s the proper win.

Finally, of course, the $5,000 has gone towards YRS2012 and I would like to extend an enormous thank you to both Mark Surman for recommending me in the first place, and to the Shuttleworth Foundation for awarding me the grant for Young Rewired State. You have no idea how much of a motivator that was – I hope you enjoy the show this year and that next year we can begin to scale the festival of code.

One response

  1. Pingback: YRS2012 and the Custard Factory | Emma Mulqueeny

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