Tech Camp UK

I did something a little different yesterday – i spent the day with young, enthusiastic, *smart* people, and it was great.

My employer agreed to loan out some senior engineers (and me) to Ed Baker of the Digital Skills Agency to run a project day for young people interested in careers in IT, as part of one of their Tech Camps. We had about 35 people attend our session on Internet of Things. Nig Greenaway kicked things off with a short talk on the topic, and then we gave them a project to complete in groups of four – come up with an IoT idea related to care of the elderly.

I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the work these folks produced; they not only came up with some properly innovative ideas (which i won’t blab about here; they were their ideas after all), but they came up with ways to deploy, support, fund and secure them, and finally gave engaging presentations on them to a roomful of people they barely knew.

The most amazing thing about them, in one way, though, is that they are all unemployed. i mean… how? they are presentable (see above), articulate, educated (many of them had degrees), enthusiastic, capable and a downright joy to spend the day with. If i was responsible for hiring (as opposed to responsible for fixing email servers) i’d take them as a job lot.

In the absence of any concrete assistance, i can only proffer my advice (hey kids, don’t do marine biology!) which may be wildly idiosyncratic, possibly unhelpful, but hopefully isn’t actively harmful. so…


to the folk i met yesterday:

IT moves pretty fast, if you hang around waiting for someone to tell you how to do it, you might miss it. There’s lots of really good quality training available for free at Coursera, edX and futurelearn, among others. Codecademy is pretty good also, if less formal; you’ll get the chance to try lots of different languages, including HTML and Java. if i was starting out, i’d look to either learn a language like Java or Python if i was thinking about coding, or possibly a more academic compsci course. There’s a bunch of courses on there around app and game programming also. There’s lots of stuff on the microsoft virtual academy, but it’s mostly pretty proprietary. good if you need to learn Microsoft technology, though.

doing this stuff on your own can be a bit disheartening – luckily, you know 30-odd other keen people in the same boat as you. organise a study group to aid motivation and understanding. use tools like teamviewer to share your screens.

If you ARE going to do a coding course, getting the certificate of participation isn’t likely to be enough – you need to do stuff with it. write short programmes, build web sites. Amazon web services does a long free trial – enough to keep your own server running continuously for a year. you can use that to showcase what you’re doing.

It’s important that you actually enjoy this stuff – if you want to be on the technical side in IT, you’re going to spend a lot of your own time learning new things. also, as Steven Levitt said the other week on the Freakonomics podcast, “When I interview young professors and try and decide if we should hire them, I’ve evolved over time to one basic rule, if I think they love economics and its fun for them I am in favor of hiring them. No matter how talented they seem otherwise if it seems like a job or effort or work then I don’t want to hire them.” basically, if you enjoy it, you’ll be thinking about it all the time. if you only think of it as work, you’ll spend all your time stressing over it.

make sure you have sources of inspiration – i like makeuseof and instructables, but there’s lots of others.

Tell people how amazing you are, and all about the amazing things you’re doing. Get on linkedin, if you’re not there already, and hassle people you know for recommendations (you know me, for instance…). when you do something interesting, write it up on your blog, then tweet that you’ve written it. obviously, you need your “professional” social profile and your personal one, but you know this already.

finally, this might not get you a job; it will get you useful new skills and experience. it may give you the capability to turn that incredible idea you had (or will have soon) into a viable business.

Good luck, all of you. you deserve it. stay in touch – dm me on twitter, or ping me on linkedin.


EDIT: you may also find this a really useful page. it’s from a long time ago – 2008 – but things haven’t improved that much. plus it has links to really interesting stuff, like the 2015 salaries and careers guide.

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