Back in April I wrote about why and how I was going to tackle the diversity issue in tech, and was grateful for the support I received. I’ve just completed two pilot programs over two terms, where students formed their own startup to solve a problem they were passionate about.
One startup called themselves SIFE (Safe Internet for Everyone) and their vision was to provide a safe internet environment for their school by creating a Google Chrome Extension that would both notify inappropriate sites, as well as highlight them on search results.
The other startup was Oliments (a mashup of French for Food and Water) who identified that migrants coming to Australia faced challenges integrating into society, and were passionate about connecting them with communities to help them begin their new chapter in Australia through a mobile app.
It was the most amazing experience and one I truly loved and learnt so much in the process. Check out the video, or keep on reading the rest of the post to find out more about what I learned throughout the program.
Reflecting back when I started, I was aiming to promote a greater interest and engagement in creating technology with school children, and ultimately leading to a future diverse and inclusive industry.
To achieve this, I discovered three key strategies on how we introduce technology to children.
“Tech is full of male nerds!”
Even in primary school, the perception of tech careers being something foreign for “super intelligent nerds” is already evident. During the showcase, other students were amazed at the Chrome Extension they’d built. When they switched to the code behind it all, you could clearly hear comments like:
“Oh my gosh, I wouldn’t even know what to do with all that!”
Girls not identifying with this persona and environment has been talked about everywhere, however I’m sure it would stop other boys exploring further as well.
What helped set the scene to change this stereotype was Cyan Ta’eed’s video on Equalising tech & creativity. This also brought to light the diversity issue and the importance of addressing it with an inclusive culture.
During one of the lessons, there was a moment when I was showing a picture of a hacker, hustler and hipster (to represent the designer), and one of the girls said:
“I want to be a designer!! But I don’t want to a moustache…”
I didn’t pay too much attention when I first heard it, but looking back this was pretty significant – I was unconsciously reinforcing a stereotype of a male dominated industry.
We need to be aware of how we portray the industry in all our communications.
“I enjoyed the whole journey”
One of the foundations of this program was for the students to experience the entire product lifecycle. Upon reflecting with them, they enjoyed the whole journey and variety of activities like:
- Coming up with their startup name and vision
- Validating their problem
- Designing solution prototypes
- Creating a marketing video
- Selling and presenting their idea
This is actually reflective of the diverse roles in the tech industry! Far from the initial view of guys coding away in the basement.
It also gave each student an opportunity to shine and lead at different stages of the program. Seeing their diverse skills, backgrounds and aptitudes complement each other reinforced how important it is for us to keep working towards greater diversity and inclusion.
We need to acknowledge that people are all wonderfully different, and not everyone is a coder, designer, or accountant, doctor or lawyer for that matter!
We should give children the choice of pursuing what they find interesting.
“I was really proud!”
This was huge when I heard it. Sure, it’s awesome to see students find that semicolon that was missing, but I wanted them to understand and feel the potential impact of their startup’s mission.
With SIFE and their Google Chrome App, I asked them how much time the app would save them a week, and then turned the question to how much time it would save the school over a year. When they worked out it would be 700 hours, that shone a light on what they had really done for their community beyond simply coding an app.
Combine that with the emotions and pride they must have felt when they saw all the students hands shoot up when asked “Who would use this app?”, and it’s easy to see what a sense of accomplishment they must have felt.
I was also concerned initially that coding a Chrome extension wasn’t as visually impressive as Scratch and code.org, but it turns out that regular gratification around things like changing the colour of a button, to seeing a pop-up execute really works wonders!
I believe this was a factor in their level of engagement over a semester, and also fosters the self-belief that they can make a difference.
How amazing would it be if they carry that mindset throughout their lives?!
To promote engaged learning, we need to show how these digital skills can be used to create solutions that improve someone else’s world.
At the beginning, I really wasn’t sure how this would be received. Receiving this thank you note from two of the students really made my year!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the program, so please comment below!