For the second time, I find myself in awe of all the amazing hacks that were shown at this years Young Rewired State. I once again was a Mentor at the centre held in Microsoft in Reading, and was joined by a group of 15 keen young people, all age 18 or under. Some of these were returning to YRS, either having been at Reading or another centre last year, and others were taking part for the first time. All of them had some level of coding ability, ranging from new coders just starting out to more advanced already having worked in different programming languages. What mattered most though, was that all had enthusiasm!
Our group of 15 came up with 4 ideas they wanted to make during the week, and split themselves up into groups to develop them. At the end of the week, they had to present them at the Festival of Code final in Birmingham in front of a panel of judges. Unfortunately none of our projects won in any of the judging categories, but all groups did some excellent work during the week, and should be extremely proud of their achievements!
The #Twome hack, developed by ‘Four Men and a Mop’, got a special mention during the Final on Sunday for their hack that turns Tweets into Poems! If you want to try it out, go to http://twome.co.uk to try it out – be prepared for some funny, and potential #NSFW results. Remember, it’s using Twitter so the content could be anything!
Our #Inspyro hack, from the SwagSquad team, made it through to the Final for ‘Best Example of Design’ for their hack designed to provide inspiration. They were struggling so much on Monday to come up with an idea, that that in itself became their idea – something to help people come up with ideas! Unfortunately they didn’t win, but it was excellent to get through to the final. If you want to be Inspyred, go and check out http://jshdk.co.uk/inspyro/.
Our other 2 hacks weren’t mentioned in the final, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t as good. If you want to see what the most popular tweets are for any topic or hashtag, visit Top Tweets at http://dev.dw87.co.uk/toptweets/. You may think it’s basic, but this one was built by two YRSers who are very much beginners with code, and knew very little HTML at the start of the week. One of them is only 10, is already doing lots with the Raspberry Pi, and has her own blog as Kid Coder here. The final hack from Reading was an app to turn location tagged comments on twitter about particular places into reviews when someone looks up details for that place (e.g. restaurants, pubs etc.). This would be useful as when you get comments such as “Avoid ‘The Queens Head’”, it’s hard to know which ‘The Queens Head’ pub that means. By taking the location data from the tweet, and mapping it to the nearest actual pub called ‘The Queens Head’, you can build up reviews other people can see when they look up that particular pub. The team wrote this in Python, rather than as a website, so I can’t link to it here, but the YRS project is here http://hacks.youngrewiredstate.org/events/YRS2013/the-twitter-local-business-analysis-tool.
The week was amazing, and it was great to work with such inspiring young people. I wouldn’t say my coding is that great, and I always feel I never know enough to help, but the week went well. I hope they were able to learn stuff from me, and I know I was able to learn some stuff from them. There were also endless words of wisdom from the YRSers during the week, including ‘Everyone deserves to have a goatee’ from a 12 year old coder who can’t grow his own facial hair yet!
I’ve already said when talking about my choice to return to University and do a PGCE in Computer Science for Secondary Education that Young Rewired State was a huge factor in that decision. Now I’ve been part of it for a second year, I am even more certain I am making the right choice. I realise that learning within schools will be very different, with a structure, and exams, but events such as Young Rewired State will definitely still have their place. School will teach the fundamentals of the subject, some programming, and help them start thinking about things in the right way. Young Rewired State gives them a chance to use that, and do whatever they want. No structure. No exams. No set projects. They choose what they want to do, and how they want to do it!
I have no idea how I will feel in a years time, after completing my PGCE year, but I do know that I want to take part in YRS2014. It is such an uplifting experience and may even be just what I need to boost my spirits after what is probably going to be a very busy, stressful year.
After 3 long arduous years, I finally did it. I resigned. It’s such a weird feeling, as I’ve been wanting to do that for such a long time. Now that it’s done, it is a little surreal. For the next 4 weeks I am part of that group everyone complains constantly about; the unemployed. In 4 weeks time, I join that other group lots of people complain about, university students. Although in a fairly loose sense. I start a PGCE in Computer Science at the University of Reading in September, training to become a teacher. It’s a big change, but I’m looking forward to it!
Although the time off now I’ve finished work is welcome, I’m trying to use the next 4 weeks as productively as possible, starting tomorrow. I am once again being a mentor for Young Rewired State, this time running the Reading centre kindly hosted at Microsoft. If you do happen to read my blog (unlikely!), you may have read about this when I mentored at the Reading centre last year. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in recent years, and played a big part in my decision to apply to the Computer Science PGCE course. We have many new names signed up this year, some returning participants and a fresh group of mentors, and I am definitely looking forward to things kicking off tomorrow morning.
I doubt I’ll be blogging much during the week, but I’ll definitely be active on Twitter. I’ll be active on my own account as well as tweeting from the Reading YRS account, so anyone interested in #YRS2013 can follow our progress. I’ll return here once I’m back from the Festival of Code next weekend, to let you know how things went, and to work out what to do with the remaining 3 weeks of my unemployment!
Predictably, a lot has happened in the last 6 months. Just not a blog post. One thing that is both at the same time surprising, and not at all surprising, is that my job somehow found a way to get worse. I already didn’t enjoy it, as it never really had anything I could really engage with. But when the business completely changed and forced my job to become something I absolutely did not want to do, I realised it was time for a change. I was already looking to leave, and so didn’t see the point in trying to fight the change or try to move into another job role within the same company. I had already been looking for other jobs, but with each interview I would get rejected for not having enough experience. If it required any programming experience, while I could demonstrate some, I would be turned away because I had not got even 1 solid year of experience from my current job. If it wanted skills in electronics, the same thing.
Even though my job has given me experience in all the key areas I’m interested in, it has been few and far between. Once any potential employer found this out, they would send me packing. If they targeted you because there was something written on your CV, they expected it to be something you had at least 1 year of solid experience with. Not just a few projects scattered through the last 3 years. I started to see that the only way to change jobs was to start from scratch. To look at things from the point of view of not having a degree, or not having any professional experience, and go for junior or entry level positions. But I also started to think of alternatives. Going back to University was one of them.
This is something that has always been on my mind, ever since I was unsuccessful in securing funding to stay on and undertake a PhD after I graduated. But then something caught my attention. Something I had thought about before, but had always ignored. Teaching. Or more specifically, teaching Computer Science. It was a tweet from Dr. Sue Black that made me stop and think. She tweeted about the British Computer Society Scholarships being offered to those going to do a PGCE in Computer Science Secondary Education. Their goal is to encourage more people with the right skills to train as teachers, coinciding with Computer Science being added to the National Curriculum. Seeing this, and reading more about it, made me take action.
I knew that working with young people was something I enjoyed, having been involved in Scouting again as an adult for almost 4 years. This is why many of my friends had been suggesting for about 2 years I should become a teacher, knowing how much I dislike my job. They all think it would be something I’ll enjoy. I also knew there are plenty of enthusiastic young people out there interested in learning to code, through events such as Young Rewired State, who would gladly take the subject if it was offered at school. I immediately looked at the PGCE courses offered by the University of Reading. Having really enjoyed my time there completing my undergraduate degree, it was always my first choice if I returned to study. Fortunately, they offered Computer Science. I made my applications, to both the PGCE course and to the BCS Scholarship, and the process began!
I’d like to say I was lucky and was awarded the BCS Scholarship, but sadly not. That didn’t deter me though, and I kept going with my application to the PGCE course. Part of the process involved spending at least one day observing lessons in a school. Something I was apprehensive about at first, not having been in a school for years, but thoroughly enjoyed. It did not feel awkward or uncomfortable being in a classroom and engaging with the students. I have now been through the application process, and after a somewhat awkward and uncomfortable interview, I am looking forward to starting back at university in September.
It maybe isn’t how I expected I would go back to university, but I definitely think it’s the right thing to do, and now, the right time to do it. I can’t stay in a job I don’t like any longer, desperately hoping that somehow, some-when, the job will change and I’ll start enjoying it. It’s been 3 years, and the changes have only ever made things worse. If I don’t get out now, and do something different, I don’t think I’d last much longer.
Now, whether the weather shows it, or not, summer is here. And I doubt it will hang around very long. So I’ve got a new project, something I’m going to build. I took the Windows Phone controlled Netduino robot about as far as I wanted too. Although I still haven’t attached the wheels onto the motors, it functions as I planned it too. Nothing too complicated, just a bit of fun. Now I’ve set my eyes on a Quadrotor/Quadricopter – whatever they’re called – a flying vehicle with 4 propellers. To start with I’m just going to jump into the Radio Controlled world, and build one to fly manually. But after that, I’ll look at things like the ArduCopter and Bitcraze Crazyflie Nano, to see about automating it and turning it into some sort of UAV. As and when things happen with it, I’ll probably put up some stuff here. There’s also our ongoing home automation work, which may require some creativity to add some feedback to our LightwaveRF setup, that may also feature here. Either way, there should be something new sooner than 6 months!