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.
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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.

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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.

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.

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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).