I love a good mystery, from Nordic noir to a traditional who-done-it. The intrigue, the puzzle, the process—the more complex the better—I’m hooked.
But the mysteries of computers and engineering—I’m just happy devices go on when I hit the start button.
But this past week, some of the mystery was revealed.
Rob Bishop, engineer and designer with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK technology nonprofit, exposed the mystery to entice a new generation of engineering and computing geniuses during RIT’s third annual ARM Developer Day. The event showcases the latest Open Source technologies and a way for future innovators and entrepreneurs to kick-start projects. This year’s event had more than 300 participants, double that of 2011.
“Many people have smart phones, yet people go their entire lives without ever knowing what’s inside the plastic case,” says Bishop. (That’s me in a nutshell.)
Bishop’s keynote address was all about taking the mystery out of computing and engineering and bringing to the forefront the innovation and creativity naturally found in both.
Here are some excerpts from a conversation Bishop and I had during the event about emphasizing creativity and how this can widen the circle of interest in STEM disciplines:
About encouraging young people toward engineering classes by putting the cart before the horse, so to speak:
“In order to be a good engineer, you need to know the foundations. Problem is that is quite dry. We’re trying to inspire people into STEM, not by saying, if you are good at math, you should do STEM. We’re inspiring people by showing them cool things they can make and then letting them realize on their own accord that they need STEM in order to achieve that.”
About more guys than gals in STEM programs:
“It’s pretty much the same around the world; we’re all alike, driven by the same base desires—intelligent guys wanting to make cool stuff…”
…Ahem…and the intelligent gals?
“It’s a tragedy because I don’t understand how we’ve gone from the point where we have people who are interested in creative things, people of all backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, making stuff. And yet, engineering, which is the art of making things, seems to be mostly white, male college-educated guys. What are we doing wrong? We need to push the creative side of things, along with the education. I think there’s always a tendency to be unintentionally elitist when things are perceived to be difficult.”
Connecting with the creative types:
“If you survey 11- to 13-year-old girls, they love art because it is creative. In engineering, the best engineers are creative people—novel solutions, designing things, coming out with new ways of solving problems. In order to do that, you need knowledge. But the problem is, the way we teach that knowledge is very un-creative, it’s very learning by rote, taking notes, exams. If we are not careful, we’ll lose those creative people because they see engineering as a non-creative discipline.”
I could have listened to him all day—and not because of his classy British accent, which was quite enjoyable. He, and organizations like Raspberry Pi, are changing the focus of what we need to do and say to encourage young people to go into STEM programs—very much like the way the company has exposed the computer’s inner workings, turning the mystery inside out.