I Saw the Struggle Young People Faced to Acquire Digital Skills - I Wanted to Change That

27/05/2016 15:39 | Updated 27 May 2016


Today, MakerClub is a company committed to getting young people from all over the world inventing and problem solving with technology, but originally, it was conceived by a realisation that school and university simply hadn't prepared me for the world....

Going back just over a decade, and I'd just completed my masters in computing and electronic engineering, I was young and pretty green, but couldn't wait to get out there and start making a difference.

When I finally got a job, I ended up feeling like I'd just wasted the last 6 years.

I've worked at loads of different companies, from tiny startups to big businesses like Ebay and Experian, but on day one of my working life, I realised very quickly that everything I'd spent years learning at university was immediately redundant, obsolete or so obscure that it didn't mean jack!

That's not to say that it wasn't useful. Academic assessment and university learning had given me a solid grasp of theory, but that didn't help one jot with any of the practical stuff that had started piling up on my screen.

Over the next 10 years, I had to learn new programming languages, debug millions of lines of code and spend months trudging through dense manuals, online articles and web forums, just so I could keep up.

Slowly but surely, I became a confident developer. But it needn't of been so hard.

I think this story is pretty common among lots of guys in the industry. While a solid education from a good university, no doubt opened up a lot of doors, nothing really beats hands-on, real world problem solving. And today's employers know that.

That's why a portfolio of work is now way more important that what degree you have, at least in the digital sector.

I didn't want the next generation of young people to go through the same thing as me. I wanted to give them access to practical technology skills early, so they could start building, designing and making stuff as soon as possible, teaching them through hands on projects and engaging problems that got them thinking creatively.

Not such a crazy thought, eh?

My mother and sister are both teachers, so I asked to see if there was anything I could do to help out at their school.

They invited me to teach at an after school programming club - a brilliant initiative run by volunteers who to get ages 8-12 stuck into coding by creating animations or making their own video games

After attending my first session, I realised what an uphill struggle they faced. I saw computers that didn't work properly, shoddy internet connections and bright kids that had finished their worksheets but didn't know what to do next, with well meaning volunteers unable to point them in the right direction.

My immediate thought was, 'there must be a more exciting way to do this'.

I'd just been given a 3D printer kit (you had to build it yourself) for a Christmas present and my world changed! Suddenly I could prototype or build anything I wanted. I became a product designer overnight.

Then it hit me.

Here was something tactile, something that kids could really feel and get to grips with, something that when you added electronics and basic programming to it, could create real products that solved real problems.

3D printing could be the answer. By combining it with programing, electronics and design, perhaps you had a set of tools that could be used to inspire even the most disillusioned young people and turn them into real inventors. And so, MakerClub was born!

This was 2 years ago, and since then we've run over 300 workshops across the UK, released our first set of 3D printed robotics kits and were recently highlighted as one of the top 50 most creative companies in the country by Creative England and received funding from Nominet Trust, through their Social Tech Seed programme

We have a long way to go, but there are inspiring stories happening all over the world.

Look to Omkar Govil-Nair, who invented a 3D printed smart watch that taught kids how to code. It subsequently raised over 20 thousand dollars on kickstarter. Not necessarily an amazing story in itself, until you find out that Omkar was only 8 years old!

Children like this are still the exception, but it's our driving passion to make them the norm.

Technology is an enabler, understanding it and using it to solve problems is something extraordinary and it can bestow superpowers on those that take the time to play, explore and have fun with it. But conversely, shunning it can put you at huge disadvantage.

Not everyone has to become a computer programmer or product designer, but they should feel comfortable with technology, if only to help realise the massive creative potential inside themselves. The workshops and courses we run at MakerClub aim to encourage just that.

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