Last week, I was lucky enough to spend the week organising the Manchester Young Rewired State (YRS) centre. If you haven't heard, YRS is a weeklong "hack event" whereby young coders and developers aged 18 and under gather to build applications from open data. Last year, our Manchester centre was one of four participating YRS teams across the country. This year, we were one of 14!
On Friday, all the groups convened at the Microsoft HQ in London for the Show & Tell. Teams of talented young people demonstrated innovative new ways to leverage technological solutions to health, education, transport, telecommunications and other civil society issues. The buzz, enthusiasm and sheer quality of the ideas and hacks presented was awe-inspiring.
But, from my perspective, I wanted to share the story of Thomas. For me, this illustrates one of the reasons for helping to make sure it happened again in Manchester.
Come the Monday start of YRS in Manchester, we gathered at the MadLab to discuss and plan the next week. It quickly became apparent that Thomas was a real newcomer to coding and programming, but keen to know more. Very keen. He would interrupt his fellow YRS'ers with questions about HTML tags or CSS basics. His quest to know more was unbounded.
And here's the thing.
Each time, one of the YRS participants would stop what they were doing, advise, help and point Thomas to a resource to further his understanding and progress.. His peers could have been in the middle of a complex piece of coding, data scraping or investigation - but they were glad to assist the newcomer. On discussing this later with the group, the feedback was simple:
We were once like that. Why not help someone starting out?
I can't over-emphasise how incredibly enlightening it is to see a 14-year old stop what they are doing to help a younger boy they barely met. Sharing the space with them was a real priviledge.
This peer-to-peer learning environment is what YRS was about for me. Making space for peers to exchange information, build stuff together in the same room and just have a laugh. As the ICT4D Jester suggests, building the capacity of the least experienced is a meaningful outcome we sometimes forget.
Thomas’ mum emailed me one night:
I'm not sure I've ever seen him so happy and fired up! I think he may have found 'his people'. I can't quite express to you just how brilliant it is to see him like this - he can often feel a bit like a fish out of water as non of the kids he mixes with are into this stuff and the stuff he's interested in and wants to know more about, they just see as 'geeky'. He said you're all just really cool and I think for the first time felt pretty cool himself! I could barely drag him off the laptop last night to get him to eat!
Wow. I’m investigating ways that Thomas can find more support. Many thanks to those who've helped so far.