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:

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

Last night Martha Lane Fox gave a knee trembler of a talk in the Science Museum. This was her Dimbleby Lecture and was her latest opportunity to use her position to put the clappers up the Establishment. If you have not seen it – do watch it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015

There is an article about it by the BBC and this is the petition she is asking everyone to sign to demand that DOT EVERYONE happens. Now I will not waste more words telling you my version of what she says – because she says it brilliantly. But what I am going to do is jump on the opportunity she very definitely gave me last night.

Let me explain.

I have known Martha for a few years now, and she has been a fearless and brilliant person relentless in her support of what I do, but not afraid to bark at me if I screw up. I got to know her when she started following me on twitter about six or seven years ago and I told her not to because it was terrifying, we have been friends ever since.

In advance of the lecture last night she asked me and a few of her brilliant friends look over what she was planning on saying. This began with a meeting at the House of Lords – she had me in the room with my heroes: Tony Ageh and Bill Thomson and I was ridiculously happy.

I have since had the tab on my computer open day and night with the google doc transcript of what she was going to say. Every now and again I would go in and have a look at how it was shaping up and see Rusbridger also reading it, or Tom Steinberg, and moments when I would watch her typing and hesitating, deleting and then genius words would flow.  Even her cats got in on the editing.

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It was magical. And moving. But also funny. She sent me a text a few days ago saying: “You seem to be spending a lot of time looking at my lecture…” Poor MLF must have thought I was some silent judge-y teacher type, frowning at her work in silence. I wasn’t at all, I just kept the tab open to remind me to read every few days.

Thanks to her, and to the BBC Make it Digital team, the Managing Director of Young Rewired State (and my sister) Ruth Nicholls were also invited to the lecture. I was asked to attend the dinner afterwards (guestlist ridiculous, how on earth I got on there…) and then we retired for a final celebratory cocktail – and it was done. The lecture that is.

But what’s this noise in my inbox?

Today I have had a slew of people getting in touch. One of the reasons for this is that when Martha talks about women in technology, and how they need to be supported and showcased more, there is a cutaway to my face! I mean… yes cringe-making because I did not know, lucky I was not picking my teeth or yawning, but also, what a flipping gift! As Rory says:

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I have no idea how that happened, but thank God it did. People are wanting to be in touch, people are reaching out to ME to see what they can do to help and be a part of what I am trying to do. This is completely new, and refreshing and overwhelming and … exactly what Martha wants to happen for every woman working against the odds in technology, indeed civic technology (worst of both worlds for funding!). So, thank you, Martha – I am going to Carpe Diem and take absolute advantage of the opportunity you have afforded me, and every other woman like me out there today.

Here is how you can help me right now

STUFF THAT COSTS MONEY

1. In Rewired State we have just launched a programme called the Data Citizen Project. Here is what we are going to do:

We propose to run a programme which will be implemented over the next five years, from 2015 to 2020. Its aim is to significantly increase the understanding and confidence of citizens in the UK with regards to use of personal data, ultimately leading to everyone being able to make better decisions about that data.

This will involve partners across health, education, finance, politics, travel and social sectors working with representative personas, developers, designers, universities, social anthropologists and partners who specialise in measurement and statistics. We aim to help citizens be in complete control of their data, give permission to all parties who wish to access it and know what they are doing with it.

We need more partners and sponsors for this five year programme. Follow the link, get a pack and see how you might be able to help.

2. In Young Rewired State we are running our 7th annual Festival of Code. This costs a BOMB as we do not charge the kids to attend, they have taught themselves how to code, why should we make them pay to meet each other and work on some cool stuff? Supporting young programmers should be a line in everyone’s CSR budget. We need more of them to fill our jobs, and we need to find and look after them, so that they can teach each other – there is no other way we are going to fill this critical skills gap. We need these kids. If you want to support the digital sector and civic action/”for good” things, then your name should be on this page – in lights.

PAY ME TO SPEAK!

I get asked at least four times a day to go and speak at en event, or be on a panel, or turn up to something interesting. All of which I totally love doing. But realistically, I am a single parent Mum, I have had several times in the last year where I have hit the bottom of my overdraft (such is the life of a Founder of an – intentionally – unfunded organisation). Doing these talks and panels and stuff costs more than just travel – it is the opportunity cost. I appreciate that the platform is an opportunity, but so many platforms and the opportunity is lost because I am not actually getting any work done, or supporting the CEO and the Managing Director of Rewired and Young Rewired State: Ruth Nicholls and Julia Higginbottom (both women – yes).

So please don’t stop offering me platforms, or inviting me to attend stuff, but if you are needing me to speak as a part of your event, and you are charging people an entry fee, or raising sponsorship, please can you pay me?

STUFF THAT TAKES MORE TIME THAN I HAVE, BUT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I really want to do this:

The challenge

The brand of technology/geeks is too remote and uninviting for most girls to want to be classed as a technologist – even if they are drawn to the career. Ada Lovelace days in schools exacerbates this remoteness – there is no relevance for your average school girl

The solution

Rebrand technology

But what can we realistically do right now?

I propose to build a small cohort of young, accessible, relevant and exciting women in technology. Schools will be able to ask us to run an assembly and careers workshop for them, and will pay to do so, unless I manage to get this funded by someone.

The speakers will be given a clothing allowance to buy a fabulous outfit and incredible cars will be hired for them to be driven to the schools. They will also be paid a speaker fee. They will then stand on stage (I propose four speakers per school) tell their story followed by speed dating style careers advice. It would be a maximum of three hours.

I need someone to help me, to take it, and drive it. This can be an organisation as well as an individual, I don’t mind – but I need help

In Martha’s own words:

The values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

I am being bolder. I am asking for help. I am asking for money. Traditional funding models don’t work for businesses like mine, because the money comes with ties that always and eventually force historic business models, analogue models, ill-fitting models down the unwilling but hungry throat of the civic tech company. We cannot compromise what we are doing. The business model is solid, but it will take time – there is no quick win, but it is a solid one. The impact of both Rewired and Young Rewired State over the next twenty years worldwide will be huge, and visible, and noticeable.

We run great projects and programmes, eminently sponsorable, with benefit for both of us: US so that we can do what we need to do (and still eat and afford train tickets) with your money; and YOU because we will ensure that what we do, delivers value in return. A trade. The oldest trade in the world: money exchanged for something of value.

Thank you, Martha! Here’s a cheeky shot…

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Digital voting and democracy: a Q&A with myself

Yesterday I was on a panel as part of the BBC Democracy day, discussing all things digital and democratic. I was there partly because I like to hack government and have set up a business based on doing just that, and because I also sit on the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy.

(For those who did not click on the link explaining what I mean by hacking government, I suggest you do before freaking out!)

Much was discussed of course, but I was not able to process fully or comment thoughtfully on the extended discussion about online voting. (Stuart Dredge has written this conversation up very well on the Guardian site here but I would like to continue the discussion after having slept on it.)

Those who have read my blog posts over the years will know that I tend to write when I am in the process of noodling stuff, rather than after I have fully formed an opinion. It helps my brain but also your input really helps me understand what it is I am not considering – so please do pile in.

This topic is very clearly divided into:

1. Should it happen? and

2. How will it happen?

The how is the technical conversation, and quickly becomes a topic that few can follow with full understanding of the words people are using; it starts with encryption and gets worse from there. I cannot add to this, nor can I hand on heart take part in this discussion with full knowledge of the facts, examples and technology required, so I would rather leave that to those who do. And I do hear your impassioned pleas to understand more, I am doing my best (the Commission has had a *lot* of input from experts on this).

So let’s stick to the should question… I am going to write this in the form of a Q&A just because it makes the most logical sense in my head right now, feel free to write it up more thoughtfully!

Should people be allowed to vote online, with their phones, tablets or laptops?

I believe that the answer to this is definitely yes

Is this just to increase voter participation?

No. Not at all.

Why then?

This is to ensure that those who prefer to use digital tools are able to, and that the feel-good factor of sharing participation in a representative democracy is extended to the community tools we use in all other aspects of our digital lives. I am passionate about bridging the digital divide: not the one between those who do digital and those who don’t. I mean the perceived separation between online life and offline life. Community interaction, influence, learning and celebration is as valid online as it is offline – and the needs of the multiple digital communities must be met in their own space. This includes being able to vote digitally.

The analogue process of voting is not perfect, indeed as Bill Thompson said on the panel yesterday: “… paper ballots are broken in ways that we understand”, but it does the job and we are familiar with it. But there needs to be a digital way to participate in voting for a representative, because otherwise the most important part people play who live in a democracy is totally absent from where many of us choose to interact, learn, share, influence: in online community spaces.

Will being able to click-vote cheapen the whole process of democracy?

No more so than some of the behaviour we are familiar with in Parliament!! I would hasten to add that (especially young people) voting would be far more rigorously researched in an online environment. I would suggest that actually being able to vote online would do the opposite of cheapening the whole process, I think it would (or could), make people take it more seriously.

How do you stop undue influence being brought to bear with people standing behind others and forcing voting a certain way?

I mean, in the same way that someone could influence you walking into a booth and ticking a box, I see no difference because it is online. It is an illegal practice, and the person who was forced to vote online a certain way will have the same recourse to law as their offline persona has. It’s this old digital divide again – why does digital suddenly make illegal practice OK? It doesn’t.

In conclusion

It is up to those who are a part of a democracy to take their role seriously, both the representatives and the represented – and that has nothing to do with technology. But technology and digital information, communication and tools can greatly enhance and amplify active participation, and it is unthinkable that this could be ignored because it is a technical challenge.

Do we really have such little faith in the behaviour and morals of those in the democracy that they cannot be trusted to play their part unless forced to walk somewhere and be watched over by GUARDIANS OF THE VOTING PROCESS with their flip board and pens? If so, I think we have a greater challenge on our hands than representative democracy in a digital age.

The podcast of the BBC panel is available here for you to listen to the whole debate, should you fancy.

PostScript and disclaimer

I am writing this just purely from riffing the thoughts in my head, I am not writing this as Commissioner for Digital Democracy, although obviously my thoughts on this have fed into the Commission’s discussions. The report on Digital Democracy is being published next Monday, and covers many topics – I shall write more after it is launched about all of the other many ways that a representative democracy can work in a digital age.

5 questions to ask before you ask people to do stuff for no money

Doing stuff for no money is something many of us choose to do in our spare time for our friends, family or causes that we care about. When you start a social enterprise you usually do a fair bit of this in your working day too! But it is not sustainable. It’s obvious, I know – but in spite of the logical conclusion everyone will agree with, people keep expecting it to be different. One definition of madness is to repeat the same action and expect a different outcome.

(If tl:dr scroll to end for the five questions, you’re welcome)

The early days of choice

Several years ago I started getting involved with and running events in my spare time (for free). These were mainly BarCamps, unconferences and in 2008, hack days. The latter grew and through a lot of 24 hour days, the loss of one marriage, many friends (and possibly 100% health of my liver and nervous system) has has now become a successful and flourishing social enterprise: Rewired State (RS), alongside an extremely powerful NfP: Young Rewired State (YRS).

Until the beginning of last year, I managed to build and run this alone, hiring people as we became able to, choosing when to do stuff for free (still a great percentage of the time) and when to not, when to sacrifice the holidays for a greater cause and what to throw everything at.

There came a point when I looked at what the organisation had grown into, what clients were wanting and needing, how we were providing a service that was still ahead of the game. In a rapidly changing world we were suddenly more and more mainstream, organisations were facing very real challenges that we are uniquely able to resolve, and fast. It was time to get serious, scale up fast, or stop. Meanwhile Young Rewired State had a community of young self-taught programmers that was doubling every year, from tens of kids, to 100s, now 1000s of them across the world, and we are changing their lives.

Now I am not a CEO. I am a founder, an entrepreneur, an ideas person with a will as strong as an ox, and two children to support single-handedly – so I am not allowed to fail; that would mean three people up the swanny (not to mention those employed by the organisations). So at the beginning of last year I realised the limits of my own skill in running a business, I had taken this as far as I could on my will and best guess, now it was time for those who know how scale and grow a commercial and social enterprise to take over and make sure we did the right thing: continuing to meet the needs of clients whilst shoring up a well-supported and honoured network of developers. I had to go (well, to the Board at least, and get a job again doing what I do best!).

It took a year to find this person, with some hiccups, missteps and ill-judgments (they are very, very hard to find), and in fact it took a year and some external skill to ready the organisation to be taken forward – I will be brutally honest, we nearly lost it, we nearly lost both of them. All pro bono projects had to go, people had to go, we had to scale right back to super lean, in order to get into the racing blocks.

To Pro Bono or not to Pro Bono – no longer my right

I *had* to step right back to allow those who knew what needed to be done to get it done – this was hard, brutally hard, but necessary and I know it was the right thing to do. The only hangover from last year in this regard, is the shift of the right to do stuff for free.

When I was running the organisations I could choose to do stuff for free. I could donate my own time, and shift profits from one project to cover costs for other pro bono projects, and I was comfortable in that space. It meant we stayed pretty small, but small and stable was fine. This was not about being hugely wealthy, this was about having a sustainable income, providing one for others as and when we could, and finding new ways to solve very real challenges faced by business and government.

I can no longer make decisions on pro bono work, except with my own time, but for a very good reason. In order for us to increase our impact, to scale up to meet the demands of clients, and to scale up YRS in order to include *all* the young people who need to be a part of this community – we have to get very real about money, about skills, about ability and about roles.

I am still asked, as I am sure everyone is who runs a social enterprise, to do stuff for free. I always say if I am happy to give away some of my own time; but if it involves more than me, I say that people are welcome to ask the CEO of Rewired State: Julia Higginbottom, and the MD of Young Rewired State: Ruth Nicholls, if they are wanting Rewired or Young Rewired to do stuff for them for nothing. I warn the asker that it is highly unlikely to pass the test of ‘Is it worth it?’ (bearing in mind both of those people lived through us nearly losing the lot last year), and I do feel a pang of guilt, no not guilt, obligation, that I am letting them down – these people doing the asking. But that is madness…

The consequences of your request

If we don’t do what we do, then right now, no one else does what we do – this is why both RS and YRS are successful social enterprises. We have a responsibility to stay, to grow, to do the very best we can for ourselves and for the communities and organisations we work with.

So, I think there are some questions everyone should ask themselves before they ask anyone, or any organisation to do something for free:

  • Can you do this yourself in your spare time?
  • Is the person you are asking to do this thing for you for free, in a financial or personal position to give this to you for free?
  • Can you trade something that translates into something that saves or makes that other person or organisation actual real cash?
  • Are you a bigger organisation than the organisation you are asking to do stuff for free? (If so, are you being fair?)
  • Why do you need this to be done pro bono? (All part of the same 5th question: Can you find funding? Can you make your procurement processes less impossible to navigate? Can you get a sponsor?)

Asking people to do stuff for free always has consequences for the person you are asking or the organisation they represent. Be mindful of the consequences – whether personal, financial or commercial. It is your responsibility to ask after very careful consideration, not theirs to refuse only if they have a damn good excuse. Even if the whole enterprise has been built on personal sacrifice and doing stuff for free in the early days.

How to have edgy creds in five minutes, no money required

The Festival of Code is happening for the 6th year running on the beautiful, sunny UK coast this Summer. We are pretty much all ready and this year (in addition to over 1000 young coders creating insanely excellent digital stuff out of open data) we have bubble football, photobooth, skate park, graffiti wall, robotics, chiptune artists, 3d printing, wearable tech, George the Poet, Avid Larizadeh and Yoni Bloch.

So how does this give you edgy creds? I hear you cry. Well, we need help, so you can get to be a part of it too, and trust me – it’s amazing.

If you are not familiar with the Festival, the way it works is that we have 60 centres and centre leads across the UK who volunteer their time and space for the week to host their local coding kids. Kids sign up from the UK and overseas and we assign them to these centres. Mentors then also volunteer spots of time during the week to help shape, craft and prepare for the weekend of show and tell.

Inevitably, there is imbalance in a few of our centres and we have devised a poster campaign to fill those spots. (These young people tend to be super-hard to find, it depends on someone realising that this is going on and letting them, their mates or their parents know about it).

So! Here goes, this is how you get your edgy creds, and become an active member of the Festival of Code…

1. Check the list below for spaces available for kids and where we need mentors (mentors in public speaking, products, marketing, open data)

2. Identify the areas where you know you can put posters up in local shops, libraries, offices, schools

3. Use your social media profile to raise awareness of the Festival, using the hashtag #YRSFoC and link http://festivalofco.de

The following centres have spaces for kids and need mentors:

Comic Relief London can take 6 more kids (Comic Relief is based in Vauxhall)
Red, Yellow, Green Dorking needs 2 more mentors
Firstsite Colchester still has space for 15 kids and 1 more mentor
AIR Falmouth Uni Cornwall has room for 8 more kids and needs 3 more mentors
A Fund, West Midlands has room for 9 more kids and needs 1 more mentor
Social Breakfast Birmingham has room for 9 more kids and needs 2 more mentors
Instil Belfast has room for 6 more kids
Metaswitch, Enfield  has room for 8 more kids and needs 1 more mentor
Queen Mary Uni London has room for 5 more kids
Raspberry Pi Cambridge has room for 12 more kids and needs 3 more mentors
Think Big Hub London has room for 10 more kids and needs 2 more mentors
Aberystwyth Wales centre has room for 5 more kids and needs 1 more mentor
Solent Cathedral Southampton has room for 10 more kids and needs 3 more mentors
Met Office Exeter has room for 10 more kids
Superthinkers Romford needs 1 more mentor
STFC Daresbury Warrington has room for 10 more kids and needs 2 more mentors
Dundee Uni has room for 10 kids and needs 2 more mentors
Birmingham City Uni needs 2 more mentors
KWMC Bristol needs 2 more mentors
Freerange Carlisle has room for 5 more kids

Information for kids and for mentors can be found here for kids and here for mentors.

Here is the poster for you to download, print and put up, put in your car, put anywhere – these young people are insanely hard to find, and the mentors are also. We know from previous years that the poster campaign works. Stephen Fry will also be tweeting out about us when he feels the timing is right. So./.. all hands on deck! If you can help out with any of the above, email kait@rewiredstate.org and let her know, and point every child and mentor at the registration points on the Festival website. All of you can officially name check yourself as a volunteer for the Festival of Code, so long as Kait has logged you as helping out! And we will verify your assistance, and thank you whilst lying prostrate on the ground, usually. Also, it is just cool…

 

 

Breaking things better at Young Rewired State

It is year six for Young Rewired State (YRS), and it is growing into a great, international community of young people who have taught themselves how to code. We remain relentlessly focused on fostering the peer to peer nature of learning, and solving real world problems through code and community. We like to call this “Breaking things better”.

Earlier this year YRS separated completely from Rewired State, enabling it to focus on community projects and the the local/everywhere programmes. I also announced my intention to step aside as CEO of YRS/RS.

Excitingly, things have moved very fast since then and Young Rewired State has moved naturally into being its own entity, we have hired some great people to manage the YRS community and projects, and soon we will be able to announce the new Head of YRS. I shall share all of this staffing news when everything is all in place. This is us in Buckingham Palace…

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But the headline news is that I have invited an extremely select and active group of people to join me on the Board, and am going to move to Chair of YRS at the beginning of July. The Board members are as follows:

Annika Small:

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Annika is the CEO of Nominet Trust, but I have asked her to join the Board in a personal capacity, as she has been great at monitoring the growth of Young Rewired State, and gently steering us in the right direction and keeping me focused on the right things – in a completely positive way of course! I trust her judgment and know that she understands this space completely, and is far more knowledgeable than I in growing global communities and projects. Annika is the absolute rock YRS needs.

Bill Liao:

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Bill is a successful entrepreneur, VC and is the founder of CoderDojo. He has been invaluable in guiding us through the restructuring of YRS and RS and it is hugely important to me that there is someone on each of our Boards who is experienced in taking social organisations to global communities, and who has serious creds in the Venture market. Not for YRS (that will remain a non-profit organisation) but for the members of the community. We want them to have the aerial cover from Bill. Needless to say, CoderDojo and YRS have much in common.

Ian Livingstone:

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The Legend, as he is known in my house! Ian has long been a great shoulder for me to collapse on over the years of growing YRS. He has either made me laugh, got me drunk, or told me off but he has always got me through whenever I have yelped for help. He is also a towering inspiration for young programmers and has fought a long battle to bring gaming into many peoples’ lives, and took on government in a very serious capacity – fighting for changes in education (and winning). Being a success himself, and also slightly baffled by some of the things that have happened to him, the board is complete by having him shoulder to shoulder with Annika and Bill.

And finally… we have our very own Angelina Jolie, our Ambassador and friend to the Board: Kathryn Parsons.

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Kathryn has been a pal of mine for a while, and she has been hugely successful with her own Decoded adventure. We kind of fell forward in this space together and she and I have learned a lot from each other. So Kathryn is our Ambassador, a very important female role model for the girl entrepreneurs in YRS – but also a successful entrepreneur and actively scaling, a great example for all YRSers. Kathryn is ace.

And that is it.

This is not a passive Board/Ambassador. I will be meeting with them all every month individually, and then we will have quarterly board meetings to make sure we are doing the best we can by this rapidly growing community.

It is exciting.

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