Young Rewired State and the Festival of Code
For those not in the know – Young Rewired State is a UK Non-profit Organisation that runs events for young designers, developers and technology enthusiasts. It started in 2009 as a yearly, week long, event for young people to come together with industry mentors and develop technology solutions to real world problems. From a handful of attendees in 2009 it has now grown to well over 1000 under 18’s in 63 UK centres with overseas participants in the US, Germany and Kosovo. In 2012 the yearly event was re-branded as the ‘Festival of Code’ with other events now running throughout the year and it is enjoying a widening base; This year, finalists ranged from 7 to 18 years old and 32% of participants were female.
The festival runs throughout the last week of July and into August. Participants attend one of many local volunteer centres during the week, helped by mentors to flesh out their idea and build their prototypes and apps. On Friday, everyone heads down to a central location (this year, The ICC Birmingham) for two days of show and tell, workshops and last minute polishing. Everyone gets a chance to present to a set of judges in the heats. The judges then nominate projects to go through to the semi-finals in each of the four competition categories: “Best Example of Code”, “Best Example of Design”, “Should Exist” and “Code a Better Country”. After another round of judging in the semi-finals, 16 teams present to the entire festival in the finals before winners are selected. The festival is free for participants with overnight accommodation provided at the festival. Many parents and families also choose to come and join in the fun with the weekend being a great celebration of the growing young tech culture in the UK.
If you are interested in joining the 2016 Festival as either a participant, mentor, centre host or sponsor, you can register your interest at the Festival of Code website.
Clockwork at #FoC2015
I have had the pleasure of mentoring at the Festival of Code since 2013 and this year I was also involved as a sponsor.
To run such a large festival, Young Rewired State run both a crowd-funding initiative and invite companies to join as sponsors. This year Clockwork stepped forward with an offer of sponsorship and Young Rewired State invited us to set an additional sponsors challenge that “staters” could enter during the week. We returned with the following proposal for festival participants:
Show us the coolest use of SMS.
Participants weren’t limited to using Clockwork (But we gave them some free credit if they did). Anything went; Useful, fun, entertaining, World changing; Staters delivered on this challenge emphatically. Up and down the country, teams were producing projects that would make my weekend of judging one of the most difficult of any of the hacks I have attended.
Continuing my mentoring duties from previous years I was dropping in to both Barclays Manchester and Barclays Radbroke centres to provide some coding advice and general pointers during the week of the festival. I also got the chance to drop into the BrightFutures centre over at MediaCity for a spot of presentation practice. It was great to see some familiar faces as well as plenty of new. Over the week I had the joy of working closely with the following great projects:
- Out with Friends – Despite only being 10 and 12 respectively. James and Oliver, who had no website building knowledge at the start of the week, launched on an ambitious project to build a web chat client for the partially sighted. The project included matchmaking features to find new friends with similar interests and a high contrast interface; They came damned close to achieving everything they set out to and garnered a Judges special mention in the heats for their work.
- MezzoMark – A great project by two young lads called Sam. MezzoMark is a slick piece of UI that allows you to find the mid point between you and your friends and show you things to do there, making it easier to meet up. Having bounced through the heats, the boys gave strong showing in the semi-finals – falling just short against some really strong competition.
- Live Listener – How’s this for a pitch: We are going to build an app that transcribes speech, live, for the hearing impaired where television subtitles are scrolling past too quickly. It is also going to work for conversations to support deaf children in schools where they don’t have any signing support. And it is going to tag every conversation with location data and generate a timeline for Alzheimers sufferers. In a week. That’s the pitch I was given at the start of the week by these three guys and despite the fact they had to work around the limitations of the Android speech API they reached the final judging of the Code a better country award with a really slick and polished app. It is an absolutely astonishing app and must have caused a few arguments in the judges room.
There were many more excellent projects with two more finalists, Clinical Calculator(Code a better country) and Loci(Best example of code), coming from Manchester centres.
After some last minute mentoring on Friday night/Saturday morning and surviving the now annual panic as the venue WiFi struggles to cope with over a thousand tech savy youngsters (This year compounded no-doubt by many accidental downloads of Windows 10). I joined fellow judges Luc Delany and Diana K. Lee to hold court over the Penguin Ruby heat, kicking off the festival proper at Saturday lunchtime.
The quality even at this level was surprising as the standard goes up at the festival year on year and we unfortunately had to eliminate many fine apps from this very strong group – with 3 of our 4 nominations going through to the final presentations.
Straight from the heats I was into judging the Clockwork challenge. All the apps were brilliant and it was great to see such a varied use of SMS. Teams had integrated Clockwork (and it was universally Clockwork which was nice to see) to do things as simple as Two-factor signups through to Apps entirely built around SMS. I didn’t get a chance to really give much feedback at the festival so here are a few notes I made about the apps.
- Buoy – Code a Better Country Winners with an interesting take on collecting Oceanographic data. Motors and sensors built into a large rubber duck allow the hub to float with currents and live data sent back to review. Clockwork was integrated to allow commands to be sent to Buoy via text which was quite an interesting take on SMS – although they had a couple of ways of issuing the commands as well which were probably a little more practical while we wait for the networks to get round to installing floating phone masts.
- CrimeSpot – An app that allows users to search for crime data in their area. Clockwork allowed users to send themselves the data to their phone. Would have been cool to see if you could search by SMS as well.
- Envolve – A matchmaking website for finding friends with similar interests using the Facebook API. Nice use of Clockwork to alert users when a match is found if they are away from the site.
- FoodPoints – Clearly a theme at this years Festival, Foodpoints used Clockwork to organise food bank collections in primary schools. I really liked the community aspect here and awarding points for donations is an interesting idea for promoting civic responsibility.
- Füd – An app for organising the items in your kitchen and donate any food you aren’t going to use to a foodbank. Clockwork allowed the team to send out reminders which is a solid SMS use case we see quite a bit.
- HealthBro – A SAP based fitness tracker that integrated Clockwork into their signup process to verify users. Again a solid use case we see quite a bit but interesting to see Clockwork being used alongside SAP.
- Jobbit – A really interesting sharing economy/community platform that allows people to post jobs they need doing and other people to complete them (Fetch milk/mow lawn/DIY etc) Clockwork was used to send status updates for the jobs which is something we are seeing more and more of with our customers. Really interesting to see it combined with the sharing economy concept.
- Pedal Plan – Computing safer cycling routes using accident data is a theme we’ve seen a few times at the Festival of Code, but these guys stood out for their use of SMS as an accessibility feature for people without smartphones. This is something we are trying to do over at http://www.getflorence.co.uk/ and something the mobile apps industry has been slow to pick up on.
- Progresio – Job tracking app with a Kanban(ish) feel, SMS allowed job status updates which, again, we see quite a lot of. Would have been nice to see if SMS could have been used a bit wider in the app.
- QuizFast – An SMS based live polling app similar in concept to PollEverywhere but a massive shout out to these guys for managing to pull off a prototype in a week.
- Refresh – A learning aid driven by some interesting algorithms, they used Clockwork to send out reminders when you hadn’t logged in for a while. Nice idea, but in our experience it is an interesting balance between prompting your users and irritating them. SMS can be far more powerful and personal, but as a consequence more disruptive than, say, a smartphone notification.
- Sat-light – Clockwork based alerts for when you will be able to see the International Space Station overhead. Clever use of weather data to make sure the British skies won’t defeat you.
- Sponzoo – This is probably one of the most unique uses of SMS I have ever seen. The team produced a website that allowed you to sponsor zoo animals and then used clockwork so that you could send messages to your animal. I can see these going on live displays next to the enclosures or similar.
- The Fridge Thing – SMS based notifications when food is going to go out of date in your fridge. Nice idea but given the team had already made a smartphone app, native notifications would have probably sufficed.
- Traxt – Award for most SMS sent during the week undoubtedly goes to these guys who build an app entirely around Clockwork. Their app provided SMS based access to Google travel directions, which is a great idea but needs finessing as the Google directions aren’t always in enough detail when viewed without a map. I would love to see these guys carry on and build some custom directions into this.
- Wheel Your Bin – Another great original idea here – Sensors on your bin that tell you when you have forgotten to put it out on bin day and send you an SMS. Love the idea but some difficult UX to be figured out about how quickly it can remind me so I can do something about it.
- Where’s My Job – Similar in concept to Jobbit, nice to see the idea come up twice independently. One of you guys need to take this forward, would love to see where it ends up.
So I had to pick one, which was an incredibly tricky task, but hopefully everyone else managed to grab a T-shirt or something off me during the weekend. In the end I picked the winning project because it was a great, two-way, use of SMS; The project had a great social-impact/community message and was something close to hearts here at ClockworkSMS (We sponsor shelters here in Manchester). Ladies and Gentlemen, our winners:
The 3 young gentlemen from Ko-llect went to many local food stores in London and identified that many of them discard food that is past it’s sell by date but would consider donating it if they had an easy means to do so and arrange a collection. Donald, Theo and Saul went away and built an app that completely solves the issue. Store owners are able to quickly list food, local donation points being alerted by SMS and then they can choose to accept a donation by replying. They can then say what time they will collect the food and the message goes back to the shop keeper. They also built an app that can be displayed in the shop window telling local people with no internet access where the nearest food banks are and what food they have recently accepted.
I love the use of SMS here as an accessible technology to quickly bridge the fact that all people involved in the process might have different technology available to them. I also love that it is a really simple piece of technology that adds just enough automation to a process that encourages people to do what they could already be doing. It doesn’t seek to replace or disrupt any existing processes, it just wants to sit on top and lend a hand.
You can see their final presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X00LET30gLM
The Sunday of the Festival is always a weird day. After the highs of the week it feels a little sombre as the end draws near. The day kicks off later than the rest of the week with a couple of hours of final presentations before a break for lunch and judging and a quick prize giving as everyone rushes for transport home. This year I had the honour of getting up on stage and despite doing my best to trip up the stairs, fluff my lines and forget everything I was going to say, actually managed to present our prize of ClockworkSMS swag bags and Pimoroni vouchers to the Ko-llect team.
You can see videos from all the finalists (and they really are all worth a watch) here: https://www.youtube.com/user/YoungRewired/videos
I would like to thank everyone at Young Rewired State for running an excellent festival and thank-you to all the participants for having us – ClockworkSMS – there this year. Every year I come back I am blown away by the quality and the enthusiasm you all have for solving real-world problems, it makes it the highlight of my year.
(All photos by rather talented Paul Clarke – provided under CC BY-NC 2.0 – you can see the full album here)