Big Data Community Outreach Adventure v2.0
In Q2, Scott Peyser launched a program to send SEs back to school to talk to kids about big data. I went back to 6th grade and spent an hour in 2 classrooms playing a big data baseball game and talking technology. The response from the kids was overwhelmingly positive and everyone in my division who participated in the program had a ton of fun. In Q3, our divisional leadership came to me with the challenge to take this great program and try to expand on it. I agreed because I am passionate about encouraging students from a wide variety of backgrounds to pursue technology. I came from a tough background and technology saved me in many ways. I want to help others find their path. I am already involved as a guest speaker with a program called College Access Now (CAN) that focuses on making college more accessible to would-be first generation college students. This was a good logical step for me.
Here is my plan:
1. Create a content catalog that spans various topics in technology that can be exciting to students.
2. Maintain the low barrier to entry for SEs to participate. The original program required about an hour of prep time and another hour of time with the students.
3. Make anything we leave behind worth more. No tokens.
Creating a content catalogue is a lot tougher than it looks! My initial idea was to show the kids how to collect twitter data and present it as a bubble chart using the out-of-the-box Spring tutorial. I am still working on that one, it brings along some hashtags that aren’t really suitable for minors. I could write something to eliminate the problem hashtags, but it’s important to me to maintain some of that out of the box functionality. I also like it because it touches on something I want to teach my kids: “be careful what you say, people are collecting this information”. The first bit of content I started with is an expansion of one a fellow SE in the West by the name of Derek Enri started in the spring: Disney Magic Bands. I love this idea because it opens up all kinds of doors. With this one topic you can discuss: customer experience, sensor technology, privacy, security, ease of use, how they could use the data, how others might want to use it, marketing and more. In addition to offering a ton of flexibility in conversation, it’s a fun topic for the kids and it is relevant to their interests. Can we get a bigger home run than that? Next up in my plan is a lesson on robots. My goal for spring is to bring a robot to class and show the kids how to train it to do things using a drag and drop programming interface like Scratch. For me, the robot project is living the dream in content: highly entertaining, thinking programmatically, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and philosophy. We can talk to the kids about how robots are changing the world: the Mars rover, disaster relief, military applications, Amazon deliveries (maybe someday?) and more. Robots save lives. Ideally, for the schools with limited resources, I would be able to leave a robot for them to build and use for continued learning. As you can see, none of these talk tracks discuss EMC-specific technology. We talk about EMC as part of our intros and discussions on what we do at work, but it is important to me to show the kids that all technology can be exciting and to spark an interest in learning more. Success to me looks like a bunch of young thinkers doing more with technology. Technology touches all lives these days and it is an important part of all careers of the future -it doesn’t belong as an elective that is an alternative to music class, which is where it sits in many schools today.
Make it Easy to Participate
My goal in making it easier to participate is focused in a few areas. I gather STEM resources to share with the kids in the program. I work with people in offices across the division to see about getting schools excited about participating. I talk to other parents in the offices, customers with kids, I talk endlessly about it. I tell them what I want to do and why and what I think it means for the future of technology –for our future. It’s easy to get people to want to help on some level. Technology already integrates with everything we touch. If you saw SAP’s keynotes at TechEd last year you’ll know… you can’t even trust a plant to be disconnected anymore. For me, making the program more accessible includes 3 key components: evangelism, choice and offloading the minutia. I start by telling as many people what we are up to, why I like the program and the value I see for all. My connection to this program is simple. My start in life was quite humble. I grew up in a part of St Louis that no one cares about. People worked multiple jobs to get by, kids roamed the streets… we looked out for each other as a community, help from outside never really happened. This computer in every home concept was foreign to people like us — and still is in that community. The world changed when my brother and I were given a hand-me-down Compaq luggable from a family friend who had bought a Mac. He could have just as easily thrown that thing away. It was an impossibly heavy suitcase with 2x 5.25” floppy drives. We had word perfect and a stick figure video game called Decathlon. There was no Windows. My brother and I spent HOURS on it. That computer made the world of technology accessible to us. It took the fear out of trying things that had been previously associated with people born to more privilege. Technology gave me a way out. I have been in the world of technology for several years now, and I still get that Alice in Wonderland feeling at times. If I can help another kid find a passion that also gives them (and their family) a better future, I feel absolutely compelled to do so. The world needs more overgrown, hungry kids like me. The world also needs more technologists in general. Often kids are presented with a series of options and told to “choose one”. If I can go in with a message of choice and inclusion and enable them to pursue and combine their passions, I hope that message will plant seeds that leave the world a better place than I found it. That is my why for participating. I encourage other people who participate to find theirs. For EMC it is a good thing to do to give back to the community. More people interested in technology means a better pool of people for all of us. It means a more diverse pool of people to choose from. It means we can go into a place and have new conversations, face new challenges and sharpen our skills at little to no cost or risk to the company. We as people come out better at what we do. We come out with a feeling of having participated and given something to the community. Most importantly, the kids come out with a real world context to those STEM classes and we ideally ignite a passion in them to chase those dreams. Offering the kids a new perspective or choice in life is as important to me as offering choice to our customers. Another aspect of choice that is equally important to me is offering choice in curriculum to our SEs. Not every SE wants to talk about baseball or Disney. Some prefer to discuss robots, 3D printing, drones or saving the planet. My goal is to create a curriculum large enough that an SE can choose the topic they are most passionate about and discuss it with the kids. Why? Because passion is contagious. The more excited an SE is to talk to the kids about something, the more likely we are to deliver a message or hold a conversation that resonates with them.
No More Tokens
Last year, when we participated in the program, we brought in a few EMC-branded items. The kids enjoyed them, but as I handed them out I thought back to something Compaq had done for students when I was in school. They held some kind of event and we got shirts that said: “Open Standards Computing for All”. I had the shirt for a short time before I outgrew it, but the passion and love of that long-gone tech company was based on my experience with their desktop computers. First the luggable, and later an upgrade running Windows 3.1 with Tabworks that some insurance company deemed as a suitable replacement for the luggable when a power surge took out half of our house. As I reflected, I thought “Wouldn’t it be better to leave the classroom something they could build and learn on for years to come?” Imagine the impact a single piece of technology could have on a group of kids. Would that leave a deeper connection in the long run than branded water bottles or t-shirts?” I think so. It may also make more financial sense. I can pick up parts to make a programmable robot for 50 bucks. If I leave one in a classroom, at a minimum, I reach 30 students at a time, and hopefully 10% of them have enough interest to keep going. Ideally the classroom pet robot gets to stick around for another year or more for new groups of kids…. It doesn’t have to be robots either. We can do this with other pieces of hardware, software or by providing information about online tools. More responsible, better long term value… it seems to be a win-win.
As always, I am interested in your thoughts and feedback.
If you are interested in STEM resources for kids or the curricula I am building, they are/will be available via my GitHub page.