Summer hacking in the UK

As we are currently in the middle stages of scale and expansion for Young Rewired State, looking at sustainability and providing a bridge to more than just one off community events such as the much adored and missed Festival of Code.

In the mean time there are still some exciting opportunities for the young programming community, including the Hydrogen Hack I have been helping Arcola energy put together as they launch the expansion of their education programme.

The challenge is to take hydrogen fuel cells, code and hardware and make something newer, faster or inanimate objects animate.

Run the same way we run the Festival, with centres around the UK, mentors and then a finale in London, those of you in the Young Rewired State community will be familiar with it. This time we want to add those young people who are also crazy about engineering.

There is only space for 100 people in ten centres across the country so I would advise registering early.

Here is the link http://hydrogenhack.co.uk

We also need mentors and centres of course, so feel free to share and invite your friends

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 🙂

Kick the cat off the printer, Your coding country needs you!!

The Festival of Code is a week long event that starts on the 27th July this year in centres across the country and Europe. It is our 7th annual Festival and we are ridiculously happy that it is back.

It is free for any child aged 18 or under who has learned to code, mentors will be on hand to help where necessary and they can build whatever they like, so long as it uses open data and solves a real world problem. Show and tell will take place the following weekend in Birmingham, with overnight indoor camping, a maker fair, sprint challenges, photo booths, graffiti walls and spoken word artists all celebrating a week of geeky brilliance.

159759-dreambooth 6x4

Now the Festival started out being specifically for those young people who were teaching themselves to code, back in 2009 there were no Coder Dojos or clubs, and very little opportunity for this community, so learning was a very solitary experience. Luckily things are slowly changing but we remain focused on those young people driven to teach themselves programming for whatever reason.

These young people can be hard to reach, and quite often it is only the parents who will spot the Festival and realise the potential for their budding bedroom programmer, and so we run a poster campaign every year.

Here is how it works. You download and print (sorry – I know) the posters on this link. You then stick them up in your car, your school, your work place, your gym, your library, your local shop (but only if they will do it for free!) with the single aim of ensuring that every child who would benefit from being at the festival knows about it.

The Festival is a free event for the young programmers, and will become the highlight of their year once they have been – I am pretty sure the YRSers will testify! Thank you for your help, and here is a video from last year:

Festival of Code 2015: call for centres

The Festival of Code is a UK based (but open to all countries) event, run by Young Rewired State (YRS) that happens every year in late July/early August. This year it starts on the 27th July with the finale weekend happening the first weekend in August.

It is for every child aged 18 and under who has learned how to programme, to whatever degree of skill, it is free to attend and all are welcome. Really it is the graduation programme for those who have learned how to do it, but need to put their coding skills to test against real world problems, and learn how to take the next steps.

We run it with a host of voluntary people who manage local centres during the week, then the centre lead brings their YRS team to the Festival weekend, and corals them through the showcases, flash hacks and maker fair – before everyone attending the finale showcase on the Sunday with the top YRS talent presenting what they built to a panel of judges and peers.

Here is a taste of the event, recorded in our Manchester centre in 2013, probably easier to watch than read!

Our centres are the lifeblood of the event. They can be businesses, civic spaces, schools, Universities, basically anywhere with wifi and power, mentors and a person willing to be a centre lead.

This year we have already stormed away with 29 centres already signed up across the UK and Northern Ireland, have a look at the map and list here: http://festival.yrs.io/centres but with an expected 1800 young people signing up we need more and we need to cover the white bits with red Ruby bugs!

We need more centres across the UK, we will celebrate you, support you, help you and find you your local coding geniuses – but it is not a light commitment. I cannot pretend that all you need do is unlock a room and let kids in and out. Over the seven years we have been running the Festival we have learned a great number of lessons, one of which is to make sure that we have centres everywhere, but also centres who totally understand what the commitment is before they jump in.

The only thing worse than having to tell a child that they have no local centre, is telling them that their allocated centre has dropped out just before the Festival and so they cannot attend.

As a result we have published this page of information, and written up this MOU. This may seem a bit over the top for a voluntary thing, but we do not take your role lightly, and we know that the success of this depends on the willing collaboration of a huge network of centres and centre leads as partners and primaries.

But if you register to be a centre we promise you the following:

  • we will find your local coding youth
  • we will support you every step of the way
  • you will be able to build on the community of young people we find for you
  • you will be pro-actively helping the mission to give our young people a supported digital future
  • your mentors will be inspired by the Festival and the young people they meet through it
  • you will want to come back

This call, therefore, is for those who really are serious about helping this movement, who want to engage with their local coding youth and who want to be a part of the future of Digital.

To everyone, I say, please can you point people you know at these post, especially those who may be able to host kids in the areas where we currently do not have centres (the map is everything!!), thank you!

And of course, if you know of a child or group in the UK who would want to come and be a part of this, then they can sign up here, international participants can register here (it costs nothing to attend).

Interactive film to be made by the attendees of the Festival of Code

Those people leading a centre at the Festival of Code this year are about to receive the following message:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 15.12.59This excellent idea was born by Nat and Julia Higginbottom of Rebel Uncut, who have both been very closely involved with the Festival over the years, and are filming most of it this year. Last year we had Rewired Art in Birmingham, where art students in Birmingham Uni joined the Birmingham Uni centre for the week, to create digital art projects. This was great but we felt too focused on one centre. We wanted to find a way to break this Festival better by including the arts for everyone.

One of our VIP judges and speakers is Yoni Bloch and I am *so excited* that he is coming. (I asked him by scribbling on a napkin and slipping it to him just after he came off the stage in Cannes – he appreciated the analogue approach I believe!)

He has created this insanely brilliant platform called Interlude which is what we will be using. To give you an idea of how it works, here is Yoni’s own song video, put together using the Interlude technology: Pretend to be happy

I am really looking forward to this year’s Arts project, to how the film will turn out, also – inevitably – how the YRSers choose to use the Interlude platform themselves, outside of the scripted film!!

This Festival is just going to be huge amounts of fun, I am sure it will be technically challenged, but it wouldn’t be a Festival of Code if the wifi didn’t fall over and someone rewiring the AV so it doesn’t work on the day of the finale.

If this inspires you or your child to join in on the Festival week, then I know there are a few spaces left in a couple of centres, you can register here. And if you want to mentor, we always need people to swing by and help – all across the UK. Sign up as a mentor here.

Thank you everyone! AM so excited, do watch the action on the Eventifier machine