Four days with the next generation
From Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th August I was jetting two very exciting events that remind me why many years ago I applied for this job in the first place. On the Thursday and Friday I a was very happy to hang around an Innojam arranged partly by me but mainly by an exceptional colleague of mine Alan Fahey in the SAP Ireland Service and Support Centre for 42 students currently on placement from Irish member universities of the SAP University Alliances program. On the Saturday and Sunday I was priveleged to be a judge at the Festival of Code, a week long hackathon for over 1,000 kids under the age of 18 at which they created a barrage of new products all of which had to be created, from scratch, in less than a week.
The first event in Dublin was an eye opener for the enthusiasm and engagement that students can achieve in their new roles but it was also an eye opener for the sheer speed and ease with which students now can use multiple technologies with creative thinking. Technology is worn like clothes – easy to put and on discarded just as easily and ultimately an expression not ony of practical use but of the style and personal preference of the person. As part of the Innojam a large multinational FMCG company provided a huge dataset trawled from Twitter and Facebook of customer communication around their cosumer products. The students, organised into 7 teams of 6 and each with a design mentor and a technical mentor, had to make best use of that data in pretty uch any way they saw fit in such a way as to advise the company how it could make better use of the data. This as well as advising the company on the initial thoughts drawn frm the data itself. The 7 tools devised by the students all used Hana as a base with around half a dozen other tools to build differet concepts. However the amazing thing was how diferent they were not only techncally but in style, composition, design, the objective purpose of the produtct, and the conclusions of the teams with what was possible. And all over a sleepless 36 hour period. I have a young 4 month old baby boy and by the time the produts had been created I’d had about 6 hours eleep over 3 days myself so I had some inkling of how much energy it waqs posisble to have. And yet all of the teams pulled through and the FMCG firm was widely impressed (6 of their managers came to view the presentations and act as judges).
After flying back to the UK the next event was the Festial of Code. This intaitve has been supported y SAP for two years now and consists of giving access to tools and mentors to as many under 18 years olds around the UK that want to take part. The event lasts a week and then culminates with a 2 day final weekend where the finalists are judged and selected on the basis of criteria that change from year to year. Anything can be used and anything can be built so long as the resulting product uses public data. The prodcts ranged from an analytics app that told bird-watchers if a particularly rare bird had been seen in their area, through an app that summarised 200 pages of the average Britsh government legisliative bill down to a page or two so people can keep up to date with key legislative developments, to an app that would take random elements from any piece of text and generate a Haiku – a shortened Japanese poetry style that renders short poems that in Japanese should be performable with one breath. The key thing was that in many cases the students had not only not developed a product before, they may never have used that tool or indeed ever coded before in their lives. It was literally the task of the 500 mentors that supported the event to train the students and kick start them. All of the products I saw were viable and several were very interesting such as an app that enabled you to identoify good schools in your area.
Here is the key – these guys as I say now wear technology and are so comfortable with it that even people that are non-coders, that literally develop something in a semi-sleep dstate are capable of buildig products that I’d want to buy. it akes you wonder what these kids are going to be capable of when some of them do become coders, and even more so when some of them bring their instinctive knowledge of ease of use, design and objective purpose to the industry.
I get the feeling the next ten years are going to be a very interestring time…you’ve heard of Schumpeter’s disruptive innovation? You ain’t seen nothing yet.