The data science community has embraced hackathons in a big way. My colleagues are active participants, some are organisers and many are habitual prize winners. We have explored how hackathons support innovation and build teams. But mostly, these have looked at how to inspire adults. As a parent, I was keen to understand how to bring the world of data, maybe even robotics, to my children.
Engaging and participating
My initial motivation to start with Coderdojo was having my own kids exposed to technology and programming. Especially how they could create themselves digital content instead of being just consumers of web pages, games or robots. I believe today people should be capable of creating their own 3D print, website, blog, robot, drone or game in order to participate in the digital world. For me the goal of Coderdojo is also to make these activities available to kids even if they don’t have computers or tablets available to them. With free access to computers during the workshop and free software like MIT’s Scratch or low cost electronics like Arduino we make the content available at a cost that is as low as possible. So we try to create awareness with Coderdojo in local schools here in Belgium.
SAS supports several similar initiatives, including Teach for Belgium. This organisation focuses on schools in poor areas, with high levels of social deprivation. These schools often struggle to find good teachers. Being able to draw on companies and organisations like SAS to support teaching on particular topics or subjects can be a real bonus. Last year, for example, we did some sessions on using Scratch at a summer school in Antwerp.
I participate as a volunteer coach, and perhaps it is part of the nature of analytics employees, but it has not been hard to recruit fellow employees as coaches and teachers for these initiatives. This kind of ‘show and tell’ on robots, the Internet of Things and sensors, 3D printing, Arduino and so on, is meat and drink to us: we love to share our enthusiasm and interest with others, particularly when they are also keen.
The benefits for participants
And that is one of the real joys of this kind of initiative. I have learned so much from the children at my local dojo. Children are so enthusiastic that it is seriously infectious. Going to Coderdojo is a real treat for them. When did you last talk to someone who thought that it was a treat to go to work? But when I interact with children, and see how much they enjoy learning to code, I remember why I started working in analytics and computer science in the first place and can rediscover some of my own enthusiasm. That is a huge benefit for my employer.Kids are so enthusiastic when #coding - it's seriously infectious. #analytics #data4good Click To Tweet
It is also interesting to see how different children approach coding, and what they want to get out of it. Of course, there are huge individual differences, but generally girls want to build stories, and boys want to build games. It is a timely reminder that one size does not fit all, and nor should it. Taking this back to work is likely to make all of us more flexible, more thoughtful, and ultimately, better at our jobs.
A new perspective on work and play
These initiatives give all of us a new perspective on our jobs. They remind us about the importance of enjoying what we do and remembering to play. Everything is easier when it is fun.