What a 15 year old girl taught me about tech.

Last year I decided to work with so called ‘young people’. At 36, I realised most of my peers and collaborators were in their late twenties or my age and although many friends were much much older, not many of them were much much younger. So I went to work, taking on 20 something year old Katya as an intern and mentored 19 year old Jolane for a few months. Then last December, my friend who is a teacher at the secondary in front of my house asked me if I knew anyone who could offer a work placement for a talented 15 year old named Lian. She was simultaneously much younger than anyone I had interacted and much older than my nieces. What’s more, I can still remember being 15. So I offered to take her on for a week but instead of getting her to help me with the Good Night Lamp, I thought I’d help her to project herself in the future.

I organised a week of morning study periods, introducing her to graphic design principles, 3D drawing through Tinkercad, presentation skills and blogging. In the afternoons we went to visit friends of mine who works across technology and creativity: Alice Bartlett,Claire Selby, Ling Tan, Becky Stewart, Avril O’Neal and Nat Buckley. This turned out to be really exhausting for her, but she seemed to enjoy herself. By the end of the week she was confident enough to ask questions we hadn’t rehearsed and was taking notes on her own without my prompting. But really I learnt a lot more from this experience than I think she might imagine.

Human experience trumps theory
What made the time we spent with our hosts fantastic was to hear about what led them to where they are now. They spoke about learning, sometimes by accident, about computing. Sometimes they talked about what made them give it up for a while before returning to it later on. They talked about their parents, their teachers, their partners, their experiences travelling, their university course, their first jobs. All this gave me, as their friend, such an amazing insight into their work experience I hadn’t gotten from being a peer. It also put some real humanity into ‘tech’ as a field of practice. Coding wasn’t simply an academic choice, it was one of many these professionals could and sometimes did develop if they wanted to but it wasn’t always necessary.

ICT, IT, Computing, Coding.
A point I had to make to my young friend during our week together is the difference between ICT and well everything else. It’s not really self-evident that these different terms relate to different aspects of the ‘technology’ space and are not interchangeable. This is a real problem as language is culture and if in academia you aren’t using the same words industry is, then young people think you’re talking about something completely different. And of course they might be put off on that basis.

Seeing is believing
We had a lot of fun going *to* our hosts and seeing their environments. Some worked in large businesses with security guards at the door, others had making facilities and co-working spaces, others had small studio spaces in Shoreditch. That variety really puts a face on what the work is like. What it’s like to live a life working in ‘tech’ and creativity. This is very hard to bring to the classroom environment. We also went to see the new Robots exhibition at the Science Museum which brings to life robotics research. She hadn’t been to the museum since she was little. Bringing 15 year olds to technical museums is as valid as bringing smaller kids and perhaps even the parents need to be reminded of this. Seeing is believing.

Having a voice
Finally to hear a professional talking about their work, their career their path is very empowering. It’s a personal story told in an intimate context of their work. It’s powerful and it’s profound. At least it was for me. It made me realise how strong we are and I could remember how guarded I was when I was younger. It made me very proud to know all these people, to call some of them friends even. I hope that meeting them opened up the desire in Lian to have a voice to, to learn to speak and share in such a powerful way. The tech sector needs it so.

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iotwatch

Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London.