Los Angeles — Salvador da Bahia — Berlin
At its best, Berlin is like a huge open source community where everyone is ready to get involved. Seeing that you can make a life for yourself outside of the ordinary cultural expectations and traditional professions can be a very empowering experience to creatives and founders of all kinds. After a year of living here my goals are starting to be realised and along the way I’ve gained greater confidence in my ability to push through difficult times.
I essentially came to Berlin to establish a educational project called MINT Haus Projekt. MINT is the German acronym for mathematics, engineering, science and technology; known as STEM in the English speaking world. The tech education market in L.A. felt very saturated so I wanted to try a different perspective. Costs are lower in Berlin so it is fairly safe ground to take risks. In L.A. just paying your rent is a risk! I visited Berlin and felt there were many up and coming designers and other creatives that could participate in the project as teachers and collaborators. The project offers kids opportunities to study things like robotics, programming and game design, which are not not usually a part of the traditional German school system.
Founding a company in Germany was a bit harder than back in US — there are lot of rules and regulations and getting everything set up takes more time. The biggest tip I can give for anyone starting up a company is to not try to do everything on your own. You need a team. There are only a certain amount of things you can achieve on your own but eventually you do need to bring in other people. I feel finding the right team is the most important step. There might be a lot of people in Berlin but finding the right, reliable people who are willing to put in the footwork before the pay check is still a challenge. I feel the pace of life, the work ethic and certain motivation factors in Berlin are quite different from L.A.. However, networking communities and co-working spaces like Betahaus and IXDS might help you connect with your peers.
There is currently a big skill gap in the MINT/STEM fields. There are lot of jobs available for people with these skills but not enough people pursuing them at the university level. Kids (and adults!) tend to get easily intimated by these topics, mainly because of the way they are traditionally taught and conceived. Lots of studies show that girls and some minority groups pursue these fields at lower rates. When I was in high school I was taking college level physics and I remember having this teacher who was always so surprised when I knew the answers. It really upset me and was incredibly discouraging. In an atmosphere like that it’s too easy to just get pushed out of a field that you are interested in.
I want to expose kids to science and technology in a fun, approachable and integrated way to help them gain that confidence needed to pursue these fields later in life. Seven years of teaching in a traditional classroom setting has made me realise that the traditional grading system often just hinders children’s focus from the actual learning — they just focus on just getting the grades and competing. The real learning and engagement happens when their natural curiosity is sparked and they start experimenting with their knowledge. I find it’s essential to teach in ways that are interesting to kids, not merely convenient to us adults.
I think our learning system has to change in order to meet the world’s current and future needs. Approaching learning in the traditional “here is the knowledge, memorise it and repeat it” way just doesn’t serve us anymore. Our world and professional fields are constantly changing, so instead of simply memorising content, you actually need to learn the skill of learning and applying what you know flexibly to new situations so that you can be what our world needs you to be — adaptive and innovative. Getting adults on board with technology is becoming urgent.
Programming languages such as Java and Python are the most influential languages of the 21st century. Like traveling, programming can teach us many useful lessons about trial and error, different ways of thinking and problem solving. You will learn to make mistakes and become comfortable with them. You will learn to find errors and fix them. You will learn that instead of right answers there are often many ways. Many of us are just obsessively searching for the right answer and in the process become very afraid of experimenting. But how can you ever come up with a new innovative idea if you are always just looking for what is already known as “the right answer”?