Here’s the full transcript of the talk Ignite talk I did at Liverpool Makefest in June 2018. 

My talk starts at 6:18

Hi, I’m Helen and I’m a Co-founder of Little Sandbox, which is a Kids Tech club here in Liverpool. 

When Chris and I first started talking about kids tech, it was initially inspired by the impending skills shortage in the tech sector.

That same year, the Government  recognised the problem and added computing to the national curriculum, which we thought was great, coz it meant kids would be introduced to tech from an early age. 

But we realised 2 things, firstly, tech needed to be seen as exciting in order to attract kids who might go on to be the future stars of the tech sector. 

Secondly, girls need to be encouraged as much as boys because when only 16% of the workforce is female, it’s a bit of a no brainer to make the sector more accessible to women in order to meet the demand for skilled workers. 

Coz trust me on this one, girls are brilliant at this stuff, they just need to be encouraged to try it. 

But then it occurred to us that there’s already a load of kids into tech, we just don’t see them because they prefer to be alone with a computer than in the company of others.

 Their interests aren’t stereotypical, they’re not into football, or dance or drama. They get labelled: nerds or geeks by kids who think that’s an insult – which is silly, we all know nerds are the coolest. 

They feel uncomfortable at social clubs, and find it hard to fit in. 

As a child, I didn’t fit in. I preferred my own company. I used to spend my breaktimes alone reading. So I was one of the weird kids. And I didn’t want to be a weird kid, I didn’t want to be one of the nerdy, swotty kids, the clever boring kids. I wanted to be a fun cool kid, so that the fun cool kids would stop picking on me. 

I made a conscious decision to try to fit in, I stopped trying so hard in lessons, I played with the other kids, I pretended I was enjoying myself when inside I was wishing I could just slope off to a quiet corner by myself.

 In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t, I wish I’d followed my instincts, embraced my intelligence and realised that relatively speaking school is such a short period of our lives and there’s so much more beyond it. 

 And I hope that the kids we work with will be inspired, knowing they’re not alone, to continue to stay true to themselves. 

We realised that rather than wanting to encourage normal kids to get into tech, we actually wanted to support those nerdy kids who are a bit different to the others, who have a hard time at school, and help them  find their people and realise that who they are is just fine. 

One thing we’ve found, which hadn’t occurred to us when we started, was that our club is quite popular with kids who are on the autism spectrum. 

 Because the documented traits such as photographic memory, recognising patterns, and requiring specific information  makes some people with ASD ideally suited to programming. 

But one of their barriers is social anxiety and finding it difficult to work as part of a team. Which is potentially a huge loss to the tech sector. 

But Several of our parents have expressed surprise at how quickly their kids settle at Little Sandbox, they engage with the activities, work with others and they’re making friends. And it helps that they’re surrounded by tech, computers, things that are unambiguous, thst either work or don’t work, are either on or off. It’s feels like a safe space because they can hide behind a computer until they feel comfortable enough to speak to the kid next to them. 

The key thing about Little Sandbox is that everyone is welcome and everyone is free to be themselves without fear of ridicule. And parents have told us that they can feel that, as soon as they walk through the door.

Maybe that’s because both Chris and I know what it feels like to not fit in, so we make sure no one else feels like that when they’re at our club. 

And here’s the thing about diversity: We’re all digitally connected through social media. We can all hide who we are behind an avatar and an online persona. And we are quick to like people we’ve never met and know nothing about. 

Why shouldn’t that translate to real life? It matters not, their age, gender, race, ability, sexuality or even if they’re a massive nerd, when they’re hidden behind a computer. So why should it matter in person? 

It shouldn’t. And at Little Sandbox it doesn’t.