Over the last 5 years I have had the pleasure of mentoring at a number of hackathons, code clubs and competitions. I’ve even judged a few. I’ve met hundreds, if not thousands, of hugely talented youngsters in that time: 8 year olds that want help building their own operating system, 15 year olds building advanced AI in languages only 6 months old, primary school kids ready to walk on stage at TechCrunch:Disrupt. But, if I am honest, I would struggle to recall the names of most of the people I’ve helped in that time.
And then there is Ellen.
I first met Ellen in 2014 at Young Rewired State’s Festival of code. I’d been a developer for 10 years, just long enough to become deeply cynical about the industry, and I had just started a new job in Manchester to recover from the last car crash I had worked on. I’ll confess, I wasn’t looking forward to mentoring that year. I was burnt-out, de-stressing and midway through moving my life around the country but I spent the week building interesting stuff with a great group of kids.
Ellen was one of those rare people who lit up a room. Bubbly, engaging, unafraid. Willing to throw herself at anything, constantly challenging, questioning assumptions and dragging you along for the ride. Her ability to teach herself new skills was a joy to behold. She was the embodiment of everything the software industry lacks, and everything I had lost over the last 10 years. Genuine compassion and empathy, a love for life and an enthusiasm that infected everyone around her. She had a huge capacity for life.
I came away from that week feeling refreshed and renewed. I stopped coding as a job and started coding as a passion. I moved to projects I cared about not ones that payed the bills. I looked forward to work as a way to help other people and improve a little corner of the world.
12 months later I was lucky enough to bump into Ellen again, at the Festival of Code national finals in Birmingham. Just about to walk on stage at the ICC with a team from the freshly formed Leigh Hackspace, to pitch a software library for medical algorithms. Here she was again, smiling, pulling apart all your preconceptions about what a 16 year old is capable of and striding out to change the world.
After the events of the last few days it is devastating to think that was taken from us. My heart goes out to all her family and friends: Everyone she touched. The YRS family has lost one of its brightest lights this week, an inspiration to all of us.
Thankyou, Ellen. It was a pleasure to meet you.