Technovation Challenge: Diary of a coach

I signed up to be a coach for Technovation Challenge. It’s an international girls app development competition that encourages girls to make apps that solve community problems.

Technovation helped me connect with a mentor from Salesforce. I already had a team – a group of three girls in Berkeley who are daughters of a couple of friends, plus possibly another group from a middle school local to me in Marin County.

Saturday before the first meeting: Attended a Technovation Challenge girlsmakeapps workshop. This was a demo of how to use App Inventor by Dave Wolber, a professor in CS at the University of San Francisco. He’s also the author of the website, a great resource for activities that the girls can use to get familiar with the software they’ll be using to make their app.

2016-01-19 16.59.02First meeting for the Berkeley team was at their home. We’d hoped to connect with our Salesforce mentor through gotomeeting but it took such a long time to get the wi-fi sorted that we went ahead and used pens and paper to do the first activity. Each girl divided a large sheet of white paper into 8 and drew pictures: 5 that said something about their hobbies, activities and 3 that were ideas for things that could make an idea for an app. I made it clear there were no right answers and so it was impossible to get anything wrong: the idea was just to get ideas out and be happy sharing as a group. I did one and reminded myself of an app idea I had long ago to create a birdsong identifier app.

Anyway, the girls came up with some really interesting observations and ideas. As an indicator of depth, here’s one of the first ideas: ‘I put world peace. Why should we be killing each other? Life is short, why make it shorter?

With that, here are other words that came up frequently in a wordle. Will be interesting to see what sticks as we move through and distill the ideas further.

SF kids code for fun for free!

It’s official. Coding is cool and kids round the world want to learn. UK-based not-for-profit Young Rewired State (YRS) has just pulled off a Festival of Code for over 1000 kids across the UK and project coordinator Kaitlin Dunning is keen to promote the US version, launching this weekend in San Francisco.

‘The idea is to get kids across the world coding together,’ says Kaitlin, who works with her team in YRS HQ in the UK. From the British experience alone, it’s clear that YRS has tapped into a thirst for coding that is not being addressed in schools. And it’s all kinds of kids who flock to the weekends that provide mentors for aspiring developers from as young as six years old.

Beyond the nerd
‘A YRS weekend is not just for geeky coders,’ laughs Kaitlin over her coffee in the cafe where we’ve met right by London’s Tower Bridge. ‘It’s just like learning anything else. A lot of kids have other interests, especially the girls.’

The pre-teens and teens (the cut-off age is 18) work together over the weekend to make apps. They arrive with varying levels of developing skills – no experience is required to attend – and leave having had a lot of fun creating a working version or demo of an app. No fancy laptop needed – when you’re working in a team, an iPad can work as well as the latest software on a MacBook Air.

Going for global
With no shortage of willing mentors or enthusiastic kids, YRS is well on its way to fulfilling its mission: to find and foster every young kid to driven to teaching themselves to code. Weekend coding festivals have been held across Europe from London to Berlin and there are plans to launch weekends across America and Europe, as well as South Africa, Singapore, and Korea in 2014.

First up, though, is the programme’s expansion to the US with a weekend of free app making support for kids in San Francisco. Ironically for a city that gives birth to so much innovation on a daily basis, Kaitlin says this weekend (November 9th-10th) has been the hardest in terms of media attention. ‘Maybe it’s because it sounds like so much else that’s going on,’ says Kaitlin. ‘However, that’s not the case. We are different, we aren’t just another start up. We involve youths, who are the future of the tech industry.’ With the tech industry not only providing role models for wannabe entrepreneurs but also real jobs for college grads, it’s clear supporting kids coding is crucial.

‘We’re not so much about teaching, but bringing together people,’ says Kaitlin, explaining how what the kids learn from each other is just as important as the training they get from the mentors, a mix of university students and full-time developers who recognise the need to ‘give back’.

Community matters
‘We’re trying to make YRS more of a creator community than a user community,’ she adds, explaining how YRS is setting up post-event support for kids through meet ups and encouraging online communication between attendees. YRS relies on sponsorship and partnerships to cover the costs of venues and marketing and so far has had no trouble in pulling in the big names: Facebook, SAP, and Google in the UK Festival of Code, and Github, Sendgrid, and the weekend in San Francisco. But what the program really needs, says Kaitlin, is regular European and American partners so the small team can focus on expansion rather than fund-raising.

‘The ideal is to have to this huge network of like-minded kids supporting each other,’ expands Kaitlin. Without a technology curriculum that includes teaching code or a solid network of coding clubs, learning to code has traditionally been an isolating hobby. Online resources like Team Treehouse, Codecademy and in person Coderdojo and Code Club meetings, along with Code Now and Code for America programs, have made a big difference to this, and by supporting online tuition with real events, YRS is making coding a social experience.

‘We see kids working together across the globe via Facebook and Twitter with our hashtags, they also communicate via the IRC on our YRS site, and subsidise in person meetings with Google Hangouts and Skype sessions’ says Kaitlin, describing how the kids who had attended the UK events mentored the American kids at YRS New York, the first YRS event outside of the UK.

Next up
In a world where education and creating job opportunities for the next generation is a hot topic everywhere, you can’t help but applaud this not-for-profit with a big global mission. For details on attending, supporting or sponsoring YRS, check out the links below. The big plan for 2014 is an international coding week called the Festival of Code in August, a step up from the previous UK only Festival of Code. Sounds like an opportunity waiting to be captured.

To register

Watch a 5 minute video all about Young Rewired State

T: @youngrewired #YRSSF
F: YRS Facebook

Kidscontent Founder Claire Comins is a volunteer mentor for YRS
T: @clairecomins