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Our Future Is in Little Hands

Tony Yates speaking at London Node User Group in March, 2017
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About this talk

The aim of this talk is to encourage others to get involved with technology and their children at an early age (they love it more than gazing at iPads


Yeah. That sounds cool. Hello everybody. You look a lot scarier when you're stood up at this end than when I'm sat down there. So yeah, I'm Tony, I work for the NHS, and I'm the chief technical architect across Going through a massive transformation at the moment, which heavily relies on no [inaudible 00:00:19]. That is not what this talk is about today. Basically, I'm here to deliver an important message. There it is. Thank you very much. So yeah, we're facing a real issue in tech at the moment. And, it's something that I'm really passionate about. I don't think there are enough women in technology. That's something I believe in passionately. I think the room today is representative of that. And it's very much the same in It's very male dominated, you know, development environment. And we're working very hard to change that. In my house we don't believe in those silly boundaries. We believe there should be more women in tech, and we need to get them started much, much, earlier than we currently do at the moment. At a time when we are reliant on iPads to do the babysitting and parenting for our children, and I'm guilty too. I've got three children, and they all look at the iPad when we need to get stuff done. But we face a crisis, because what happens is, people see the children using iPads and assume that they're good with technology. Yes, they might be able to use it as a consumer. But if we don't do something about this issue right now, and start teaching younger people what is actually happening in technology, how these things work at a very fundamental level, then we might miss a trick, you know? We're obstructing things constantly. We're making things easier to develop, easier to implement. So, somebody's got to remember how the basics work, right? So that's what my mission is about. Trying to sort that out. So, our future is in little hands, and this here is my daughter Sienna. And you know, she's a special little cookie. At three years old we decided to start using technology. We started messing around with circuitry. We started lighting up LED's, and all those kind of things. To try and just get her used to and familiar with how things work, rather than just what they do for her. And it's been a really interesting journey. So, little makers are going to make. But you have to create the right environment for them. You have to give them the tools, the space, encouragement, the mentorship to help them understand how technology works, and what it can do for them. So this was her very first project, where we just lit up a few LED's and controlled it with GPIO and Raspberry Pi. And that there is a Chromebook in the background, which is running Chrome OS. It's a Toshiba Chromebook, Chromebook 2. Fantastic little device, for the money and the screen is absolutely insane. The issue with it is, we couldn't do anything with it. We couldn't use Git, we couldn't track our code, we couldn't do some of the more powerful things. There were no Docker. You know, it really constraining some of the experiments and things we wanted to try. So what we did is we decided to embark on a project, and we hacked the Chromebook. So, my three year old hacked a Chromebook, and that there is the blog post relating to how she did this. She had mentoring from me, who loosened the screws, because they're a little bit tight. But, she took al the screws off herself, took the lid off, took all the parts out, and components. To find this tiny little sticker, which you can see her hands manipulating there, which protects writing to the BIOS. Pulled it off, put the thing back together, and then we installed eBoom2. Which you can see there. That lasted for about a week and then we put Mint, the next Mint on there. - [Audience] Boo! - Sorry. So yeah, it were a really interesting time when we did that. And I felt like it were a really important message that, to her, she didn't really understand all these components, but she was getting involved. She saw inside a computer, which they normally don't see. And it were really enlightening. But more than anything, she loves spending time with her dad, right. She loves spending time, doing something that we're both interested in. And you know of course it was somewhere her two little brothers...One's, I've got a five year old, a three year old, and an eight month old. So, life's crazy in our house, but her two little brother didn't get to be involved. It were me and her time, right. So, we did that. We wrote a blog post. We thought we'll share it, and maybe somebody might see it and be inspired to do a similar thing with their kids. And yeah, basically, a few people saw it. My blog's obviously real cool and everything, and I get loads of traffic, but guess which one were her post. It kind of took off in a big way. So I think this one were probably related to her as well, but you can see my blog is pretty crap. I don't really get much traffic. My little three year old comes along, does a little project, we put it up there, it goes viral on Twitter, people start looking at it, and all that kind of stuff. So after doing that, what we're really interested in, obviously I work in healthcare and technology, which is two of my big passions. And we were invited to Healthtech Women UK. Which is a bit like this, and they go around the country doing talks about what people, what women are doing in technology, in healthcare, and sharing and mentoring each other. No exceptions. I'm a member, I'm a male obviously in case that were under question. And basically I'm a career mentor for the women. To help them get into technical positions. Help them, you know, just kind of give them that career mentorship, and it's obviously free of charge and all that kind of stuff. It's great fun. They have wine. They have beer. They have pizza. Which is the only reason I go, to be honest, and the only reason I'm doing this talk. So yeah, they meet all over the country, at London they have a [inaudible 00:06:10]. So, any Healthtech women, you want to go, you should, it's great. Equally, they do want men, and they don't kill them. So you are welcome to attend as well. But they gave Sienna honorary membership. So she became...They have a blog post of the month, so they took the blog post, they put it in that blog post of the month, sent it out to all the people, and clearly that there, previous slide was the result. So when I went to Healthtech Women, I kind of felt, because I had been on this story and this journey for quite a while, it didn't feel very new. So I wanted something new to talk about. So Sienna cam home with some homework, and basically what they did, is they gave her a little flip chart of loads of letters that she had to learn. And they were jumbled up in a random order, and we had to flip them as parents, and she'd go through them and guess the letter. In true typical child fashion, she memorized the order, you couldn't change it, and therefore we didn't really know if she were recognizing the letter at all, understanding the order that they were presented in. So we decided what we would do is use a bit of technology, or computer science as she calls it, and we would sort it. So what we did, is we got this little Arduino. Which is a five pounds device, little LED matrix, and I'll just plug this in for some power. I think it says the name in a minute. There we go. So, at the minute it just says a name, so we've changed that. But what we actually did for her homework is we just started randomly picking letters, which she had to identify and call out. You can see that her name is spelled double n, and there's a long pause with the n, where there should have been a blink, and that just shows how shit my coding is. Because I'm responsible for that part. But I assure you, part of the plan and the delivery of this were absolutely excellent. So that's that. So then, I had the exact same problem, right. Last time I came to [inaudible 00:08:13] in January, I committed to doing this talk, and then I'm like, "This is kind of old news now. I need something new and exciting to talk about." So, I asked Sienna what kind of homework she'd got and everything. And she said, "Right, I've got to learn about space Daddy." So, yes space, new homework. We love space. So we created a mission. This is the mission. So we had to learn about space. We needed to practice handwriting. We needed to use computer science to improve her understanding. That just means using technology. And we had to identify how many astronauts were in space. And her baby brother, who is to years younger, was the acceptance desk. So he was the customer. He needed to be able to see exactly how many people were in space at any given point in time. So, you know, I was kind of like, "HELL YEAH! This is space." You know, how good is that? There's planets and things floating about, and we get to do all this fun stuff. So how we tackled this, is we printed out loads of little pictures. Which I were hoping to bring, but I forgot them when I run out of the house. And basically all they were is pictures of an astronaut, pictures of space, pictures of the moon, different planets, and what she did is she wrote underneath each one of them exactly what it was. We laminated it, and we put it in our mission folder. Which is pretty cool. So then it were like right, okay we go to work this thing out, how are we going to do it? And how we are going to get Nodes somehow integrated into it. We couldn't do that, so we decided to scratch...I'm only joking, we used Node-RED. So, we used Node-RED. We got a Raspberry Pi Zero W, which clearly shows how recent we've done this. Because they've only been available for a couple weeks. Sorry, damn, I spilled beer. That's all I came for. Yeah, so we decided we were going to use a raspberry Pi Zero, and this is how we're going to tackle the mission. So this is her. It's maker time. Clearly excited. We got a little kit, with a little blinket light on it, and she constructed the Pi Zero. Put it in it's little rainbow case and all that kind of stuff, and held it together. As you can see, she's quite pleased with herself over there. And yeah, it brings a lot of happiness to her whenever we do these things, and she completes these missions. So she'll clearly thrilled with what she'd achieved. So now, onto live demo time. Oh Christ, never goes well. So let's have a look. So what we've got is, where's it gone? I've literally lost my browser. Were are you? How do I find this browser? Do I have to go out of the presentation? Is that right? Let's go out of the presentation. I've literally lost my browser. And now it's all died. Oh, there we go, we're okay. Yes. This is Node-RED. So...oh balls, that's twice. I really wanted that beer. So, Node-RED, for the people that don't know, it's a bit like Scratch. Where you can move and manipulate things around, and you can load some of the fundamentals of computing, and stitching things together. It was great for Sienna. She didn't know how to use a mouse when we did this experiment. But now she knows how to use a mouse. She knows how to double click, and drag, and connect things. And she built these little projects. I did one here, which basically just sticks everything in a d-book window. Which has disappeared for some reason. Come back. Where have you gone? There you go. So basically, anybody Tweeting [inaudible 00:11:45] we just chuck it out to a d-book window. Very simple. No real heavy lifting. Just connect [inaudible 00:11:51] and it all works. So then, we went about our mission, and we got the Raspberry Pi Zero W, which is here. And we decided we needed to light these things up. Each one of them in sequence. And that's how it works. Pretty simple really, you just hook it all up. This is just a basically sending a payload of eight, because we've got eight lights. And basically all we do here is we construct the payload, we construct the core, we omit the message, and away you go. Then eventually once eight have lit up, we clear the thing down, and get rid of the lights. We did it in red, just to make sure that it really was multi-colored. So we've got a little red one. And then we went onto our main project, which is hooking this thing up to work out how many people are in space. So, we got timestamp. Which basically is it repeating it. Just injects when I click the button. We go off to the Astro API, which kind of looks a little bit like, this. And you can see there, how many people are in space, and which spacecraft they're on at any given moment. Which is pretty fascinating in itself, like people in space. It's insane, "What!" And yeah, so basically we just do a nice little bit of JavaScript, which she types in, get the count from the payload, return the count as the payload, so then it knows exactly how many lights to light up. And we come into this thing, and we say right now you need to light all these lights up. However many we press in, and we want them to be this color, which we can change. We limit it to one message a second, so you see them progressively count up, instead of just going "blah". So her little brother can do the acceptance testing, and see, you know count along as it goes up. Rather than having to look at each individual dot. This is the whole thing working, for those who can see it. It worked, yay! Liked them our worked. How good is that? So this was her little project. And what she did is she took this to school, and she showed the class how she's approached this problem, and trying to learn about space. The school were overjoyed. They got right in front of a load of scary people like you all, and they basically...She talked them through it, and explained what she did, and why she did it. And it were kind of fascinating, because it were obvious that a lot of the other children were really interested. But they just weren't getting that experience in their environment. So basically I've agreed to do a couple things. One, is at work, I'm doing a kids coding day to basically give them all one of these, and help them set it up. And I agreed to do the same for all the local schools, so the children that aren't exposed to it get a little bit of exposure. I think it's massively important that we do this, and teach people how things work, and how to knit things together to solve problems in new interesting ways. So that's it. Next phase is, I might have to show this. So, Sienna loves rainbows. Let me just, stop, space rainbow. All this is on GitHub. You can get the code, and do all that kind of stuff. [inaudible 00:15:09] There we go. They're not super fast. So here we go. Rainbow, there we go. So, the next task it to make it do rainbows every five minutes while it's checking the API [inaudible 00:15:32] fashion. Then obviously display and reveal the number. She's a kid, she loves rainbows, and unicorns. So, yeah, that's why it's called SpaceRainbow. We just didn't quite finish that little bit off. That's pretty much the essence of the talk. The takeaway is, super proud Daddy, love spending time with my daughter doing things that I love and she loves. I think that we need to help girls, and little people in general into technology. Get them messing with these things and really understanding how they work. You know, these are like nine pound I think, the Raspberry Pi Zero. A couple are actually equipped for the little lights and all that kind of stuff. And, yeah, the future doesn't just depend on them. It depends on you as individuals, us as parents, us as a society, to get younger people and women into technology at a much earlier age, if we really want them to take it on like we need them to. And yeah, that's it. Thank you. That's the company. We're hiring. We're North, so that means above the M25. It's in Warrington, I don't suppose anyone's from there. But you know, but midas well have a go. Thank you very much.