Earlier this month I volunteered at an amazing event ran by CDW, who I work for, and the Stemettes.

The first CDW Stemettes Hackathon!

CDW UK hosted the event at our Head Office in central London on the 6th & 7th of July 2019.

The event was attended by around 50+ girls from the ages of 5-21 years old on both the Saturday & Sunday.

All the girls who attended were set the challenge to design, build & test their own well-being themed mobile/web applications using different tools dependent on their skills/experience with coding.

The tools they used included: AppShed, AppInventor & Glitch.

Why did I choose to volunteer?

This was a no-brainer for me really if I’m honest! One of the things I love about the world of IT at the moment is the realisation¬† that one day everything will interact with technology in some way, shape or form. So if I can play a part in helping the next generations of IT industry workers, then I’m there and this event ticks that box perfectly.

I also get a real life-affirming uplifting kick out of helping anyone at all helping to understand a technical challenge they are facing. Especially when I can help them overcome the issue and enhance their technical skills & knowledge!

As well as this, my wife, Kate, is a secondary school teacher here in the UK and is a strong advocate of STEM & even more so of the Stemettes. The school she teaches at have a dedicated STEM/Stemettes coordinator as well so she is always coming home talking about the great events they are taking part in.

So when it came to asking if I could spend a weekend away at “work”, which as we all know in the world of IT can be quite a common request of our partners, volunteering at this awesome Stemettes event. Kate didn’t even hesitate to say yes before even checking if we had any existing plans with friends etc…

What did I actually do whilst volunteering?

Until the weekend arrived I only had very little information around the low level technical things we would be helping with.

Before all of the girls arrived on the Saturday morning, myself and the rest of the volunteers, were all briefed by the Stemettes team on the running of the day and what they needed from us.

The girls would be able to work in 1 of 3 groups over the weekend. Each of these groups would use a different tool to create their mobile/web app.

The 3 groups were (all named after inspirational women):

  • Bouman – used AppShed to create their apps – ¬†for those who were new to coding and IT in general – very much design and look over functionality and code syntax
  • Sharman – used MIT AppInventor to create their apps – for those who had some coding and IT experience – a good balance between design and functionality – pre-packaged logic blocks to make things happen within the apps.
  • Johnson – used Glitch & Ratchet to create their apps – for those comfortable with code and IT – raw HTML & CSS in use in this group –¬†This is the group I helped out in!

As you can see above the group I helped in, Johnson, used Glitch & Ratchet. Glitch is effectively an IDE that is very user friendly for those who aren’t full time web developers. It handily has a built in web server that previews your code live as you make changes, which is great for new web developers and even more so for the girls attending.

Ratchet on the other hand is front-end framework to build mobile apps with HTML, CSS & JavaScript. This was the first time I had come across this framework, but I’ve got to say it was very good at making things look very good with very minimal effort. This made the girls apps really come to life as quick as possible, which was great to see as it got them hooked on making them better and better once they learnt how important HTML syntax is.

The combination of Glitch & Ratchet was a great choice by the Stemettes team, although as always we had a few random bugs that occurred that got all of us volunteers scratching our heads; we got there eventually each time though!

The most complex request I had was to help a group get a live webcam stream embedded onto one of their web pages as part of their app. Now I’m no web developer, it’s certainly more of a hobby for me, but I couldn’t let the girls down; so I got it working with 15 minutes to spare before they had to submit their app for judging.

Summary

I absolutely loved helping out over the course of the weekend that this event ran. Seeing the girls getting to grips with Ratchet, HTML, CSS & development methodologies over the duration of the event was fascinating to see. The speed at which they all picked up effectively new languages to them all was mind blowing!

Everyone who attended received development themed prize bags from CDW, a great touch; I certainly would have been thrilled to receive some of the goodies that were in the bags. The portable logitech speaker was amazing and who doesn’t love a Rubix’s cube?

 

I look forward to volunteering on a lot more of these events in the future and already helping CDW plan what we can do in the future to inspire the next generations to get into IT.

All of the volunteers from CDW!

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