Advice from a tech Mom on getting teens to learn to code

Advice from a tech Mom on getting teens to learn to code

Like many teens, my son is interested in gaming and YouTube. As a tech mom, I was keen to encourage him to learn to code. He didn’t really understand why I am so passionate about tech, data and working hard at it. In the past month, we’ve made a real transition from his initial stance to having to drag him away from coding tutorials so he can get to bed at a reasonable time on a school night. I thought I’d share how I managed to turn it around, and I hope it helps.

I recognize that, as a parent, I can influence my teenager but the reality is that his peers are just as influential — if not more. So I decided to use that reality in order to help me.

Try a Hackathon. No, really. Try it.

You don’t need to code to attend a hackathon. People are friendly and happy to pitch in and show you what they are doing. It’s a great community way to learn.

As a first step, I decided that I’d take my teen to a hackathon so he could see other kids coding. He has been seeing me code since he was born and it wasn’t enough to switch him over to learning the skill by himself. Therefore, I worked out that he needed to see his peers coding. I took him to a Teens in AI event in London and it was amazing. There will be other hackathons and they are easy to find on the Microsoft events website or even Eventbrite. My son was inspired to learn more about coding simply from seeing other teens code, and how these programming teens were at the nexus of each and every project. In other words, the rest of the hackathon centred around these teens, and it was inspiring for him and also for me. At the end of the day, he was determined to learn to code and we agreed that I’d buy him a book on Python.

Books or online material?

I chose a book so my teen could learn to program. The reality is that online courses are great, but being online is a great distraction. I noted that he researched Python and saw this counting as ‘working’ but I wasn’t sure he was making the switch to actually doing coding. So I bought a Python book which really helped him to concentrate and feel a sense of achievement as he progressed through the pages. There will be many coding books which you can purchase on Amazon or EBay, or you can look in your local library.

Which language should you choose?

We chose Python because it has a focus on data and maths, plus it has good visualization so he can see the end result. The maths angle has the potential to improve his maths skills, and I believe that’s crucial for kids throughout the school years.

There are other languages and another good place to start is HTML, CSS and Javascript since new programmers can get results quickly.

Office Skills

I’d also recommend that teens learn Office really well. Everyone thinks that they are an Excel expert but there is so much scope in Excel to do different things. Microsoft offer good tutorials for beginners and that’s a good place to start.

My teen is learning to touch type and that’s helping, too.

I hope that helps.

Microsoft acquires Github – does it make sense?


Chris Wanstrath (left), Github CEO and co-founder; Nat Friedman, Microsoft corporate vice president, Developer Services; Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO; and Amy Hood, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer. Credit: 

Microsoft have to reach the future generations of coders and GitHub is a common denominator for coders. This shows that Microsoft believes in developers, and AI, for the long-term. This is visionary and I love the forward-looking aspect of development.

What will Microsoft get?

– VS Code
– TypeScript
– Electron
– GitHub

This is crucial, since it puts Microsoft running through the veins of modern development, for now and the future. Microsoft are meeting developers where they are.

This is also very forward thinking. I was mentoring at an AI Hackathon this weekend, and I noted that the teens weren’t using Visual Studio for AI. They were using JavaScript and tensorflow JS. All of the teens all had a GitHub account and they were happily checking code in and out. They were very proud of having repositories full of code since they felt that it was proof of their coding abilities.

Microsoft is the largest user of Github so it is largely invested in it already. It’s not just self-protection, however, it goes well with the best IDE ever: Visual Studio. I am excited about the opportunities that it brings for Microsoft and developers.

What will happen next?

Who knows, but here is my take. It’s a more subtle New, One Microsoft because they do seem to be leaving GitHub to run independently, rather than Microsofting it. LinkedIn accounts were not merged into Live IDs or Office365 accounts. I think that Github will take the same road. Nat Friedman will be CEO, so it looks like GitHub will run independently as normal. Why change something that works? That isn’t solving a problem.

To summarise, yes, it absolutely makes sense. Microsoft are looking at future generations as well as existing requirements. That’s true leadership, and it is a new Microsoft.

More reading:


Why I wish I’d never backed the Gemini PDA campaign

In December, I had my first experience with Indiegogo, and I backed a campaign to purchase a Gemini PDA. To date, the campaign has generated $2,294,143 which is 284% of target. So there’s plenty of money sloshing around.

As of now, it is May 2018 and despite promises, and a product tracker that seems to be only consistent in its incorrectness, I still do not have my device. This is despite the fact that the Gemini PDA is now available to buy now with delivery mid-June. Initially I was happy to wait until I understood that the device worked but now I’m concerned that I’ve been bypassed. So here’s a lesson in customer service:

In this world where we live in a culture of ‘now’ and constant updates, the silence is disconcerting.

There seems to a precedent where they answer emails reactively when asked about the device. There’s nothing proactive. There is a facility on Indiegogo whereby companies can send updates, but these are coming less and less; only one in May. I’d rather see companies hire a temp or an admin person to look after this and send out proactive emails to update customers. Marketing isn’t difficult and there are plenty of good SaaS offerings for cheap.

I have had no email communication since January when I will get my order; in Indiegogo, it still shows as ‘Order Placed’ which means that it isn’t ready to be shipped yet. I was relying on a Facebook page on when I’d get my device. I’m writing this on 29th May, and this means it is not likely to get here by end of May, which is officially two days away. I feel fobbed off with a Facebook post that said devices would be released, but nothing individual. As a backer, I expect to be treated like an individual; what about people who aren’t on the Facebook page? I expect more communication than this, particularly in this tech-savvy, ‘share everything’ world we live in.

I was an Admin on the Facebook page, but I have taken the decision to remove myself from it. I’ve been as constructive as I can in sending feedback, but my goodwill hasn’t been reciprocated. Now it’s on general release with mid-June date and I still do not have mine. The website says ‘Available now’.
I am disappointed by the lack of communication and I can’t continue to be associated with this situation. Being admin of the Facebook group for Gemini PDA makes me part of it. It feels like I’m endorsing it by continuing to be admin, and I’m absolutely not. People shouldn’t be joining an FB group to get information about their orders, particularly when it involves hundreds of pounds. It’s not a small amount of money. I think I’m being treated in this way because I’m letting them, and I hope that this sends a message back to them regarding customer care and treating backers.
As for my device, if it ever arrives, I’ll probably stick it on eBay, unopened.
It’s not just the poor service that’s made me write this post. I saw a post entitled The Gemini PDA, the Perfect PC for People on Low Incomes? No, no, and no again. Planet haven’t proved themselves worthy yet. Their solution is just out on general release. I was poor – achingly poor – growing up in a rough part of Scotland. Being poor is a hundred thousand humiliations and I have suffered many of those, and I remember what it’s like to be hungry and cold. I still buy second-hand clothes to this day, and I think about every penny. The PDA isn’t cheap. For the poor, being recommended a device which costs hundreds of pounds isn’t going to lift people out of poverty. I lifted myself out of poverty by educating myself, and that meant better access to good libraries, with great facilities and long opening hours. It also helped the loneliness of poverty; you can’t just go and sit in a posh cafe and mingle, for example, so a free reading group where you weren’t expected to part with cash was a great way to spend an evening and certainly better than living in a cold flat. I had this experience and it pains me that the New York Times reported yesterday that libraries have had their funding cut by a third, which is a short-term decision which does not harness the opportunities offered by bringing educational facilities to the poorest.

I don’t believe that Gemini PDAs are a good option for the impoverished, at that price range, and certainly not given the ‘start up’ phase that they are in – if you want to call it that. There can be other, more robust, long-term solutions that are proven and earned trust to help Britain’s vulnerable.

As for me, I’m not sure if I will keep the device or put it, unopened, on eBay. I regret having taken the decision to buy it on Indiegogo and I should probably have got myself an expensive Bluetooth keyboard for my Google Pixel instead. That would really allow me to ‘Type and create on the move.’




Artificial Intelligence Mentoring with Teens in AI

After listening to Satya Nadella’s BUILD keynote this year, I was inspired to do even more with my background in Artificial Intelligence. As a Microsoft Regional Director, I relish in sharing in the positive and forward-looking vision that Microsoft gives because I do think that they are changing the future in many ways.  If you want to see the highlights of Nadella’s keynote, head over to YouTube here for the official Microsoft YouTube channel.

What is Teens In AI? It’s close to my heart because it combines my two loves: technology and diversity. The objective is to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence.
Teens in AI aims to democratise AI and create pipelines for underrepresented talent through a combination of expert mentoring, talks, workshops, hackathons, accelerators, company tours and networking opportunities that give young people aged 12-18 early exposure to AI for social good. The vision is for AI to be developed by a diverse group of thinkers and doers advancing AI for humanity’s benefit. So…..

I’m excited to be an Artificial Intelligence mentor at @TeensInAI’s Artificial Intelligence Bootcamp & Hackathon.  For more information, visit the Teens in AI website.

There are still places left at the #Hackathon with code ACORNFSM free for kids on free school meals and ACORN80@ gives 80% off – come learn about AI with top industry mentors @MSFTReactor 2-3 June.

I hope to see you there!

PASS Marathon: Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace with Microsoft CNTK, Tensorflow and CaffeOnSpark

PASS Marathon: Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace registration is now open! Jioin myself and other experts by registering today for FREE access to back-to-back webinar sessions:

My topic is on Deep Learning, which is a specific subset of Artificial Intelligence. Here is the abstract:

Deep Learning in Microsoft Azure: CNTK, CaffeOnSpark and Tensorflow

What is Microsoft’s approach to Deep Learning, and how does it differ from Open Source alternatives? In this session, we will look at Deep Learning, and how it can be implemented in Microsoft and Azure technologies with the Cognitive Toolkit, Tensorflow in Azure and CaffeOnSpark on AzureHDInsight. Join this session in order to understand deep learning better, and how we can use it to provide business and technical benefits in our organizations.

Join me on May 31st!


Managing activities and productivity as a consultant

I have a hard time keeping track of my activities. It can be hard to track my availability, and my days tend to disappear in a flash. I have tried many different digital ways of doing this, and now I’m going with a mix of digital and analog.

You don’t get what you want, you get what you work for

To lead anyone, you have to have a healthy degree of self-awareness. I find that this is one quality which I don’t see very often, and it’s very hard to try and cultivate it. As a first step, it’s good to measure how you spend your time, because that shows your priorities more clearly, and in a way that you can measure.

I use Trello and Plus for Trello to log my activities over a period of time. The results showed that I spend a lot of time in email, so I worked towards getting it down to Inbox Zero. It took 30 hours of solid email writing to do it, and I did it on planes across the Atlantic to the US, and on planes across to the East. Inbox Zero doesn’t stay for very long though, so I used my last flight to Singapore to try and clear down as many as possible, and I’m down to the last 300 emails. I’m sitting in a cafe in Watford on a Sunday morning, while my dog is being groomed, to clear these down.

My Trello reports showed that I regularly do 15-16 hours of work a day. I work at every available pocket of time, with downtime only for food and for spending time with my son. Sleep gets squeezed. All of this work means that I am leaving a trail of things behind me, and that means it is difficult to unpick when it comes to invoicing and expense time.

Too busy to pick up the $50 notes that you drop as you go

I have hired a Virtual Assistant and she has been helping me a lot; it’s been worth the time investing in training her in my various home-grown systems and I’m hoping to get some time back. I was getting to the point where I was dropping things like expense claims, so, basically, I was dropping $50 dollar notes behind me as I sped along my way. Having the VA onboard means I have someone to help me to pick up the $50 dollars as I go, and it’s worth investing the time.

We are designed to have ideas, not hold them in our heads

I bought the Get Things Done book and something really spoke to me; humans are designed to have ideas, not hold them. That’s true.

I wrote down every single idea that I had. Truthfully, we forget our ideas. I didn’t bother evaluating if it is a good idea or a bad idea; I just wrote it down. I then saw that I could group these ideas, so I start to split them out. One of my headings was ‘Ideas for blog posts’. Very shortly, I had 36 blog post ideas down on the page, which I had collated over the period of a week or so. This is blog post #36. I haven’t lost the other 35; I can pencil them in my planning journal. So let’s dive in and take a look at the system.

Bullet Journalling in a Traveler’s Notebook

I started to use the bullet journal system and I’ve heavily adapted it. It was worth investiging a couple of hours to understand it, and get it set up. Here is the website here. After having tried various electronic and digital systems for the past twenty or so years, this is the only one I’ve found that works for me.

I have a Traveler’s Notebook, which is like a refillable notebook that you can customize yourself. Here’s my Traveler’s Notebook, which I took whilst I was out in the Philippines:


The Traveler’s Notebook itself is customizable. I have the following sections:

  • Task List
  • Monthly Tracker with Weekly next to it
  • Daily Tracker
  • Mindsweeper (a brain dump, basically) for blog ideas, things to remember, quotes I like, tentative activities, adresses I need temporarily etc.
  • Slot for holding cards
  • card envelopes for holding things such as train tickets, boarding passes
  • Zippable wallet for holding passport

Here are some ideas to get you going.

Tracking over a Month

I use a monthly spread, which uses a vertical format. On the left hand side, I record anything that is personal. On the right hand side, I record work activities. I don’t split the page evenly, since I have less personal activities than work activities.

Here is my example below. The blue stickers are simply to cover up customer names. I took this shot half-way through my planning session, so you could see the structure before it got confusing with a lot of dates in it.


Using my background in data visualization, I try to stick to the data/ink ratio. I am trying to simplify my life and declutter what my brain can take in quickly, so I find that it isn’t necessary to repeat the customer name for every day. Instead, I can just draw a vertical line that has two purposes; to point to a label, and to denote the length of the activity. In other words, it forms a pointer to the label, which shows the customer name. The length of the line covers the number of days that the activity lasts for. So, if the line has the length of four boxes, then this means that the activity lasts for four days.

Occasionally, I’ve got excited because I think I have some free days to book myself out for an unexpected request. Then, I realize it’s because I haven’t marked out the weekends. I work weekends too, and the main reason I mark weekends separately is because my customers don’t work weekends, usually. Therefore, I colour weekends in so that I can easily categorize the days as being part of a weekend or a normal working day. I have also done this for Bank Holidays because I tend to work then, too.

My personal things go on the left, and my work things go on the right.

Tracking over a Week

I put the weeks on the right hand side of the page, and this is where I combine time, tasks and scheduling. I use the grid in order to mark out the days, and, on the same line, I mark out the Task. Then, I can put a tick in the day when I have pencilled in the task itself. You’ll note that I have marked a seven day week. You can see it at the right hand side of the photo.

If I don’t manage to complete an activity that day, I just add another tick mark so the next day so that it gets tracked then.

I don’t eliminate tasks that I haven’t managed to complete that week. Instead, I just put them in the next week instead.

In my weekly list, I don’t cross things off when I’ve done them. I find that it created an unnecessary clutter, and I didn’t want to bring into focus the activities that I’ve done. I’m more interested in what I have to do next. I leave that to my daily list, and I will come onto that next.

Tracking over a Day

For the Day, I use an A6 size notebook, and I use a two-page format. On the left hand side, I go back to the vertical representation of time. This time, the day is chunked in to hours. As before, anything personal or non-work-related goes on the left hand side. On the right hand side, my work activities for the day go here. That may include stand-up meetings, retrospectives or whatever I am doing that day.

I have added in a slot for lunch. I don’t normally take lunch but I need to make sure that I eat something. It is easy for the day to slip by, and I only notice it’s lunchtime because people are not around and the office has gone a bit quieter.

On the right hand side, this forms a mini-brain-dump of activities or thoughts that occur as I proceed throughout the day. It can also form a memo pad of things that I need, such as a phone number, which I jot down before I add to contacts. This usually gets filled during the day. It is a messy space, a place to unload,

Some of these thoughts are important but they are not urgent. I can then clear these items into a less transient mindsweeper but I just need a place to hold them temporarily while I assess their urgency.

The idea of having ideas, rather than holding them in my head, was a revelation to me. I’d been worrying about my memory, and forgetting things. If you forget something, then you lose a part of yourself and you don’t get it back. I set myself memory tests, such as remembering the name of a painting, or a quote of some sorts. When I start to forget things, then I know I am starting to have problems. The reason I started to do this is because I could see the start of someone else’s memory start to go a little, as he forgot things such as who he ate dinner with; simple things like that. It made me very sad, and I realized that our memories make up so much of who are we.

It can be tremendously liberating to divest ourselves of our responsibility of trying to remember everything and to focus on the things that matter. It frees your mind to have more ideas, rather than focus effort on holding ideas, which is harder for your mind to do.

Why Microsoft does not need to prove it’s another IBM: Work is what we do, not where we are.

Does Microsoft have to prove it’s not another IBM? I read this article from the Verge, which suggested that Microsoft would have to prove that it’s not another IBM. The article suggests that ‘Microsoft is increasingly focusing its efforts on businesses rather than consumers’, evidenced by the Windows demos being relegated to Day Two.

In the article, the author states that ‘Microsoft can’t afford to become the next IBM and lose any relevance it still holds with consumers, but if it’s not careful, that might be inevitable.’ I would strongly disagree with this assertion. Let’s take a look at where Microsoft are going.

Work is what we do, not where we are. That’s why the Alexa and Cortana integration is so important.

From the Build keynote, I got the real sense that Microsoft are paying attention to consumers with the Alexa and Cortana integration. I see the split quite neatly; Alexa for Amazon type of requests where I want to order something, or use an Amazon service such as Audible. I see the Cortana aspect of Alexa as ramping up the productivity, both personal and professional, for consumers. Microsoft remember their consumers and this view will help Microsoft in efforts to retain mainstream mass market success beyond Windows and Office. The reality is that our life boundaries between work and play are pretty blurred nowadays, and Microsoft understand that. Work is what we do and part of who we are; work is not a place to go, do work, and come back again. Our lives are way too confusing for that simplicity and those days are gone.


Microsoft has the opportunity to show the world this week what it really stands for, and, for me, Microsoft seems to ‘get’ people and the mess that is our lives. Additionally, there will always be the diversity aspect that Microsoft brings to the table. In the Day One keynote, for example, it was inspiring to see work teams collaborating productively with a deaf team member, and ensuring that she was part of the team.

Another aspect of Microsoft Build is that diversity does not mean sticking pretty young women up on the stage in some sort of reverse move; sexism in the guise of diversity where organizations pretend to be diverse by showing ‘babes’ as presenters. The Microsoft Build stage was shared with real women leaders who have a passion for technology, as well as an inclusive message by showing how technology helped a techie who is deaf. Microsoft’s demo showed that her deafness was part of who she is, but it did not stop her from doing what she loves. As a female in technology, this means a lot to me. Having complained on booth babes in the past, I feel that diverse groups have a home at Microsoft and Microsoft are showing the way by example. That’s real leadership, and that’s why I don’t think Microsoft need to prove that they aren’t IBM in disguise at all; they are embedding this perspective in their DNA.

With Satya Nadella at the helm, there is a real care and concern, almost a love for people and the planet, which imbued Satya’s keynote.

During the keynote, Nadella talked about Microsoft’s impact on people and planet through opportunity and responsibility, and they were right at the front and start and centre of the keynote. For that, as someone on a Buddhist journey as well as a female in tech, that was a key takeaway for me. I felt that Satya’s keynote talked directly to me.

Microsoft are serious about open source, and making it a first-class citizen. Microsoft is single largest contributor to open source on GitHub. According to GitHub, Microsoft has the largest open source community in the entire world with Visual Studio Code. If this is a surprise, you weren’t paying attention and it shows a real commitment to the creativity of developers. IBM has a story for open-source too and they have shown themselves to be leaders in this area. Microsoft seem to be splattering open source everywhere and I get the impression that they are way more vocal about it than IBM are. In fact, I don’t think you can actually avoid it in many Microsoft products anymore. Take R, for example; it’s in everything from SQL Server through to Power BI, and you can even use R in Excel, which is, after all, the world’s favourite Business Intelligence tools and one of the most unsung inventions of the 20th century.

I don’t believe that the promises of AI are ‘vague’ at all, as suggested by the article. There are clearly many opportunities for intelligent drones, as evidenced by Microsoft’s forward-looking partnership with DJI. It’s important to note that IBM also have a partnership with Aerialtronics. In this sense, both organizations are going in the same direction. I’m not sure what’s vague about it from the Microsoft perspective; they’ve signed up with a manufacturing giant, and I think that’s good news. I also think competition is a good thing, but I also think that Microsoft are placing the opportunity in the hands of developers and that’s allowing freedom and creativity, being mindful of Satya’s commentary about ethical AI and its responsibilities.

MIcrosoft should not fear IBM at all.  I see Microsoft as having a consumer and business audience. Consumers will still be a focus for Microsoft between Windows, Mixed Reality, Xbox, Office and other services, along with new innovations such as the Alexa/Cortana piece mentioned earlier. Microsoft have clearly gone after enterprise as a focus, especially in the Cloud sector. Those bets have been paying off as the Azure business is growing, and going from strength to strength and the strategy is continuing to prove itself to shareholders, and that’s crucial as an independent barometer.