Use The Force, Take Your Shots

Today, Reshma Saujani’s work with Girls Who Code is an inspiration to mine.

“Civic tech” is a thing for me. In fact it’s more than that, I’m owning it to become my thing. Advocacy. Advocating for people, improving their chances of succeeding, by being present. Knowing that my “presence”- my contribution in whatever form made someone’s life richer, better, head in a direction that improved their chances to succeed — is my thing. Definitely a part of my work, which I’ve been involved with for a while now. I was only able to put a name to it last week after attending the Grace Hopper Conference/Celebration of Women in Computing.

Earlier this month, a co-worker Robb* blogged about how he used his tech expertise to lay out a prototype for an ailing friend of his father’s. This friend was diagnosed with a terminal disease, was no longer able to speak and needed to answer yes or no to some very important questions. In his blog post, Robb was able to get the patient to communicate to his hospice team by using his brain waves, which was phenomenal. For a little more detail, the solution involved combining a consumer grade EEG with a Node.js application that could interpret/display thoughts.

In addition to this, a piece that stood out to me was that Robb attributed this to a mental connection from when he volunteered to teach at a Code workshop for kids which we held at work this past summer. What was special about that was that I had come up with the Code workshop and was the lead volunteer. It was a couple months after I had started teaching kids at my church to code, when the announcement was made at work for volunteers to host a kids program. I remember thinking, “why not throw in Code to the mix?” and made suggestions. Robb was in our first brainstorming meeting that day. He thought the code workshop was a good idea, offered to be my assistant and we collaborated and got to planning. It was the fourth of May, and we agreed on a Star Wars theme (Fourth of May, May the Fourth). On the D-day, he took it farther by bringing an actual robot that could be hooked up to the portal where the code was deployed. The kids loved it. He also shared this YouTube video called: Use The Force — Move a BB-8 with Your Mind. Yes, he’s a Star Wars enthusiast, and was quite disappointed when he learned I wasn’t so keen about the space opera franchise :)

100 percent of the shots.
I glowed when I read his blog post knowing that something so “wild” happened as a result of our collaboration. I am glad that I did not hold back on my suggestions, which went on to enable someone else to champion a solution for improving someone’s life. I’m reminded of Google’s Astro Teller’s speech last week at Grace Hopper, where he said, “Everybody loses when smart people hold back.” Amen to that.

The other day my mind went off to some of the challenges, difficulties, struggles yet to be remedied, that the human race faces everyday. And I thought, 100%. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Maybe someone who was vital to the solutions did not show up. Maybe they were lost or stuck pursuing a different calling, or never got to realize their calling. Maybe you are afraid of failing or speaking up, or appearing stupid. Really, diversity of thought is important, and we will never get to measure or know the impact of the loss or absence of contribution. Or will we?

* real name changed