Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My mum, the geek

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire.

The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day came from psychologist Penelope Lockwood, who carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.” [http://findingada.com/about]

Well, I've never been one for role models to be honest, and I'm not really looking to attain 'high levels of success', but I wanted to take this opportunity to write about someone who has inspired me, and who I know has inspired others. My mum.

My mum is a geek. A proper one. She takes stuff apart to find out how it works. She buys parts online and then builds computers and laptops from them. Then she sells some of them. She was the first person I know to get a Raspberry Pi. She gave me her iPad when she found she couldn't really "muck about with it". She was my 'go to guy' when I needed my creaky old laptop souped up a bit. She experiments. She tinkers. She learns by doing. She may have indulged in some dubious downloading practices in the past, but I think she's got past that now :) And over the past couple of years, she's helped friends and family buy, set up and maintain the right computer equipment for their needs. And help them get online and do stuff online.

This is a woman who struggled to send a text message a few years ago. I can't remember the exact circumstances, but at some point she got a computer. Initially it was for photos and video but I got her online, signed her up for an email account and bought her a 12 month subscription to Computer Active. But as much as I'd like to take responsibility for creating the nerd that she became*, I think it was when she took some classes at the local library, that she really got hooked. And once she'd found the techy forums, and eBay, she was off!

This has been a very good thing for all concerned. It's given my mum a hobby that keeps her out of the pub (only kidding mummy :)). It's increased her confidence. She's been able to find information online that has helped her deal with all the usual life stuff and generally just be more informed (eg my grandma's medical condition). And on a more practical level, she's benefited by taking advantage of all the money saving deals that can be had online. Although I think most of those savings have gone into buying more computer kit!

It's been great for the aforementioned friends and family who have been supported. And it's brilliant for me, obviously. I get less questions along the line of "how do I find out how much pension I'm entitled to?". I get the odd bit of 'surplus' kit. I get free IT support. Tech is something that she and my equally geeky t'other 'alf  can talk about. And it makes buying Christmas and birthday presents much easier than it used to be (I got a case for her Raspberry Pi for her most recent birthday). I don't even mind that it's my inheritance she's spending on all those motherboards!

But it's also a 'Very Good Thing'. Digital participation is a key part of Scotland's Digital Future and we have some ambitious targets for getting people online. My mum is playing a key part in helping us achieve those targets. I spent yesterday talking about how libraries are contributing to to digital participation in Scotland (and I'll blog more about that at some point). One of the themes of the day was the admission that individual organisations or people can't achieve very much on their own. We need to work in partnerships and to leverage the network effect. Give one person the skills - and the confidence - to get online and hopefully they will pass those skills and confidence on. And so on. Basically, we need more of my mum.

So, thanks mum! Keep spreading the geek love. And don't worry (too much) about spending my inheritance!

* She has since admitted that she didn't find me a very good tutor. That's yet another other blog post!