ITProPortal recently returned from Digital 2013 in Wales. In addition to taking in a fascinating conference headlined by a keynote speech from Sir Terry Matthews, we got the chance to sit down with some of the UK's key ICT thought-leaders. One of the biggest names trotted out up at the Celtic Manor Resort was Emma Mulqueeny, founder of Rewired State and Young Rewired State. Emma gave us her insights on a number of the key issues facing the technology industry: the gender divide, IT education for young people, and the future of social media. So what did she have to say?
"This is the problem with Gove"
"The gender divide starts when you go from junior school to senior school. Girls and boys in junior schools are equally interested in technology - using it and learning with it. But they're still not taught it. So when they go into senior school – and this is the problem with Gove – the first thing that all girls have to do is they have to fit in, because girls want to conform. They have huge peer pressure to look a certain way and behave a certain way. They all need to be seen to be the same as everybody else. Boys don't have that kind of pressure.
"So if girls go up into senior school not having learnt any technology or any programming or anything like that, the last thing they are going to do is choose to go into a subject that still has that kind of nerdy image and risk being different from the crowd. That's one of the biggest factors in losing girls - because we're not teaching them and therefore they're not going to take that risk.
"Gove has got this solution, which is focusing on GCSEs – 'let's put an IT GCSE in there.' The problem with that is you are hitting the exact age group of girls who are not going to self select to go into technology, or they will go in kicking and screaming. You need to start them young....Those things need to be addressed."
"Lily Cole didn't class herself as a technologist - but she is"
"When we used Lily Cole last year to be a judge to attract more girls to come to Young Rewired State, a few people said to me: 'Why are you getting Lily Cole, she's a supermodel, she's got nothing to do with programming.' But actually, she was running a social enterprise called Impossible – she was in the process of setting it up, actually. And in order to set up her social enterprise, which was about time-sharing, she had to learn the basics of programming in order to recruit the right people to come and build her idea. So she was self-learning technology so she could create this technological business. She didn't class herself as a technologist, or a woman in technology - but she is.
"Look at Etsy, where you've got all of these women setting up these shops. There are hundreds of thousands of them - and on eBay, hundreds of thousands - but they don't identify themselves as being entrepreneurs or being particularly techie. But increasingly, using these sites, they're having to learn and use technical skills. [But] they're not classing them as technical skills because the people that created the interface are getting so clever that you don't think or understand that you're learning HTML or programming whilst you're updating your eBay items or whatever it is."
"Facebook will be a dinosaur"
"Jobs and Gates [became leaders] when programming and technology was hard. You had to be a genius mathematician, you had to understand binary code, you had to have a brain the size of a planet. And the guys that ended up doing that were genius people. So I think that's how come those people have risen up and shined so brightly. Now, you don't need to be a genius to be a programmer and there are so many people doing so many technical things. [But] they're not celebrated as leaders necessarily because what they're doing isn't seen to be technical.
"Technology now covers such a huge array of stuff...It becoming mainstream is a good thing because all kids need to have some basic understanding in the same way we know that a lorry will kill us if we cross the road when it's coming. Kids don't know that a lorry will kill them in the digital world. A lot of the teenage boys are desperate to learn how to build a game or an app or build something, and the only thing they ever say to me is that they really want to do it but they want to make sure that whatever they build isn't pointless. They don't want to just go to a lesson, build something and everybody else is building the same thing, and then it's never used. Or, it's like: 'right, that's your homework tick.' They want to build stuff that they can stick on the App Store.
"I think in about six years what's going to be very interesting is – the survivors, the geeks that are the older teenagers that survived all the bullying and the isolation. Those ones that have been through those experiences build apps and games and digital stuff based on their own experiences and based on things that they know. What we're going to see more of is these younger ones coming through and building far more social apps. Facebook will be an old dinosaur. There will be lots and lots of things that young people build in order for them to connect and communicate, that they can screw up and throw away and do another one as soon as their mum joins. There will be a lot more social apps simply because the children are going to be the mainstream children."
"The money ruins Tech City"
"I think that Wales has the opportunity to turn this around super fast, in a far more agile way than London can. The problem with Tech City is that it has too much money being pumped into it, too much attention being focused on it. All that does is really slow growth because you have to achieve certain things in order to continue getting the funding - you can't just make a decision going, 'That doesn't work, let's do this.' The money ruins Tech City.
"The geography of where you are doesn't necessarily matter. But what Wales can do, because it has got its devolved government, [is] it can do things fairly quickly and differently. With a population of 3.2 million, it's not that difficult to move around quickly and start skilling everybody up. What I suspect you'll find is that if the Welsh Assembly decides to do that, you will suddenly have a huge growth of bedroom-based business. Obviously, a percentage of those are going to be hugely successful...Because we're getting them younger now."