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

Open data explained through the medium of Blue trousers (and chickens)

“Yes but *why* is open data important?”

When acting as Commissioner on The Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy I was often asked what was the single most important recommendation we could make. I always replied “open data”, here is why:

You know how if you go online to buy a pair of blue trousers. You have a bit of a mooch around and regardless of whether you bought a pair or not, blue trousers will thereafter follow you around the Internet. In your Facebook page, your gmail, your online news channel, somewhere on those pages you will have blue trousers suggested to you.

We know this, we even expect it even though we used to find it creepy. These machine learned behaviours and smart algorithms are just something we accept, something we have come to assume as normal.

But this only happens because that blue trouser data is open to freely move about.

Now in Parliament, the information is not ready yet for this kind of movement around the web. It is *designed* to be destination data, you have to go to it, on the website.

Retro right?!

But way more importantly, more significantly, our learned behaviour pattern means that if something is not actively moved into our digital space, we are more than likely to miss it. When Parliamentary data is open you will find out about what is happening in Parliament that might interest you, using exactly the same voodoo that is used to serve you every variety of blue trouser.

Let’s say you are a lady who is totally nuts about chickens, you have hundreds of them as your pets. A Bill is going through Parliament that is going to make the ownership of chickens illegal. Until that data is open, you will only know about this by seeking out the information elsewhere – yet how could you realistically know about everything going through Parliament? Once the data is open, you will have the Ban the chickens Bill across all your online spaces, and you will be able to then do something to fight your chicken cause. And so it is important.

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:

How to get teens voting (and itching to vote) in 5 minutes flat

Here is a story:

My daughter, Jess, is 17 and has had no interest in politics, politicians or government at all, ever. Even more vehemently so because I am her Mum and it is something I am passionate about!

Last week I was mooching around the ‘how should I vote’ apps, of which there are many, just testing them to see what questions they were asking and to see if my politics still chimed with the party I vote for.

Anyway, I said to Jess, “Just come over here and let’s see who you would vote for”, so she did and worked her way through the questions, getting more and more engaged.

After five minutes of answering questions and thinking about her views  she pressed ‘go’ and got ‘her’ party she was ecstatic!

“I am [redacted party name :)] Mum!” she exclaimed.

The next night the leader’s debate was on, and she wanted to know who ‘her’ politician was. She cheered his words and was skeptical about others. She can now take part in conversations that were wholly irrelevant before, where she felt she had no knowledge or right, therefore interest in, taking part. She is interested in who others support, and why but in a normal way, not a total politics geek way. What’s more, she has the loyalty of a teenager who has found their group, their gang.

And it took five minutes.

She can’t vote until later this year, so will miss this general election, but you can bet your bottom dollar she is voting in all and every election she can from now on.

And she cares.

Five minutes, that’s all it took.

A list of voting choice apps are provided here by My Society have a go, it might work for you! I do wonder whether the political parties are aware of this…

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