My first STEM experience
Tonight, I attended my first function as a STEM Ambassador which was a careers evening at a reasonably local (other side of Leicester) college to be on hand to talk about my education, what the possibilities are and what my experience of my chosen industry has been like since I graduated some 16 years ago. The students have all recently passed their GCSE's and are looking to plan their A-Levels and subsequent degree or other further education programme and there were STEM Ambassadors from businesses, Universities and individuals like myself who have a genuine passion for their field. After the school careers talk the students and parents attended, they were "unleashed" on the STEM Ambassadors in a meet and greet, informal setting where we made ourselves available to students and shared what we know offering advice and generally trying to point the students in the right direction. Some of the students I met really had a solid idea about what they wanted to do, some, were clearly not so sure. It was a great event and I really enjoyed attending and hopefully I encouraged some students into the Software Engineering/Computer Science/Electronics disciplines. It really was good for the soul! What troubled me however was the answer to one of the questions that I asked every student. I asked them the simple question "What sort of programming have you done and do you program computers in your spare time?". The answer was consistently along the lines of "I've never programmed a computer, can you tell me what I should be doing to start?" The students were clearly from families with a wide range of financial circumstances and some of the students don't have access to computers that are easily programmable at home. I was surprised but not shocked to find that the family computer has been usurped in some homes entirely by the iPad and other homes had a "family machine" which limited the time students wanting to learn to program get for the necessary experimentation. I found myself over and over again recommending that students seek out and buy a Raspberry Pi, get involved with open source programming initiatives and buy books on programming techniques rather than specific languages coupling that with studying Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Electronics and Computer Science at A-Level depending on their current ambitions. Without fail when talking about the Raspberry Pi, both the students and their parents (both of whom had never heard of the Pi before tonight) looked surprisingly pleased with the thought of being able to get a computer for very little cost that could be dedicated to the student full time. A low risk investment with potentially high returns for the students education. A definite winner. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience and if I've managed to convice even one student that Software Engineering is a discipline to get involved with then I'll be happy.