While I was in Manchester, I shared an office with two guys, Sam and Scott, who ran an animation studio called Saladhouse. Me being me, I used to talk about Raspberry Pi all the time – and my enthusiasm rubbed off on them both. Scott ordered a Pi kit from Pimoroni and once used it to display some interesting visuals (Amy Mather’s pygame implementation of Conway’s Game of Life) as the backdrop of a stage at a gig he was involved with putting on, and Sam said it would be nice to make an animation explaining what Raspberry Pi is.
We bounced some ideas around, and discussed what it would be like. We seemed to think alike and have similar ideas on how it would be – and liked each other’s input. I wrote the script, and Sam storyboarded it. At around this stage, I had just been invited to visit the Raspberry Pi Foundation – so I put Sam in touch with Liz Upton and she liked the script and the initial storyboard and they discussed our ideas. We’d intended to do this as a hobby project, but Liz was very keen to make this happen so it was commissioned by the Foundation, and we went in to production. Sam and Scott came along to Manchester Raspberry Jam in November, which Liz and Eben also attended, and I introduced them. Liz apologised for taking me away from them, and Scott replied “Oh, it’s ok”. I suggested we asked Amy Mather to do the voiceover, Sam liked the idea too (and Liz loved it), so I introduced Amy to Sam and they arranged the sound recording session. Amy gave some suggestions which influenced the final piece – such as changing the ’80s bedroom poster from Back to the Future to Hack to the Future.
I then moved to Cambridge to work at the Foundation and was regularly updated with how it was coming along, and got to see pictures like this:
The guys worked hard on the animation through December and January and we released it this week!
Huge thanks to Sam and Scott at Saladhouse, to Marcus Alexander for the sound design and to Amy Mather for doing the voiceover. I’m really proud of how it turned out and we’ll be using it to promote Raspberry Pi everywhere we go!
This year I’ve learned lots, run events, helped mentor young people, contributed to open source, engaged in much community activity, made and developed some strong friendships and built myself a new career.
I began this year working as a web developer at OH Digital, having started there just two months before the previous Christmas. OH Digital are primarily a WordPress development agency; initially I was sceptical of the use of WordPress as a full CMS, but grew to realise its potential the more I used it in a range of commercial websites. We specialised in delivering a full build to a client, from specification, through design and development iterations to the launch, and also hosting, administration, third-party integration and maintenance. Our design work always was done externally, as we had no in-house designers, but had connections with quality local design companies. It meant we got to concentrate on development according to the specification (which we’d created ourselves by working directly with clients) and outsource the visuals and interfaces to professionals who could meet our clients’ needs and provide us with excellent designs to work from.
Working on all levels – specification, user experience, front-end markup and styles, back-end programming and Linux systems administration – gave me excellent experience in working professionally, being involved in the whole build, and meant I got to see a project through from concept to launch and see it in action once live. And being lucky enough to work alongside very talented designers meant I was always very proud of the piece of work we’d produce after each project – not only because of the delivery of the technical solutions involved but because the websites we made looked brilliant. I would be proud to say I worked on a site and would often show people the finished product. Here is a selection of the projects I worked on at OH Digital:
Manchester Raspberry Jam
Throughout the year I continued to run the Manchester Raspberry Jam. This started in July 2012 and I ran one every month since then, skipping just two (March, for the Jamboree, and September when I was in Berlin) which we usually had around 30 – 60 people attending. The Manchester Jam was the first in the UK and they soon spread all over the country and the rest of the world. The events I ran were very practical focused, and we regularly had a range of people attending – including young people and families, and everyone was encouraged to collaborate on projects and learning. At the event in November – Manchester Raspberry Jam XVI – we had 80 people signed up and a further 20 on the wait list. This event was attended by several members of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and we ran a full track of talks upstairs as well as the usual hacking downstairs. The talks were all video recorded by a volunteer AV Team (thanks Les, Dan, Olly & Tony).
A particular success of the Raspberry Jam has been one of the young people I have mentored for the last couple of years – 14 year old Amy Mather (known as Mini Girl Geek). Amy is a really keen and very bright young coder and maker. At last December’s Jam, we started a small coding exercise – a test-driven implementation of Conway’s Game of Life in Python, for her to learn coding techniques and the language of Python. She came back to the next Jam in January with a fork of the original code, ported to work with PyGame, a gaming library for Python, rather than just drawing ASCII characters in the terminal. She improved upon the PyGame version some more at that Jam, adding features and learning more about Python, and then came back the next month with a version of the code powering a small LED matrix from a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino. She was then asked to present this at the Raspberry Jamboree in March (just 13 years old at the time). The video of her presentation was a big hit online (currently over 50,000 views) and was praised by many people including Kent Beck and Jimmy Wales. The video was also featured on the Raspberry Pi blog.
I also attended an event at Manchester University for STEM Ambassadors to be introduced to the Raspberry Pi. After meeting the coordinators of STEMNET, we discussed the idea of running a Raspberry Jam for schools – and so over several emails and phone calls, we put an event together, invited schools to attend and ran the first STEM Raspberry Jam. This kickstarted Raspberry Pi activity in the STEM network of the North West and there have since been a number of Raspberry Pi sessions run by the STEM team with a team of trained Ambassadors – in schools and colleges around the North West, introducing young people to programming and making projects with the Raspberry Pi.
About six months ago I had an idea to set up a weekly Raspberry Pi email newsletter featuring news and projects from the community – and invited Ryan Walmsley to join me in running it. We called it Pi Weekly. We grew steadily and a few weeks after launch it was featured on the Raspberry Pi blog – which sent out subscriber count through the roof. We then sought sponsorship to continue running at the new capacity, and developed new features as time passed. I worked on the website, the newsletter and the generator over time, and wrote up a full account of its evolution on my blog. At the end of 2013, we’d sent out 28 issues and had over 5,600 subscribers. This week, Pi Weekly was translated in to French by a Pi enthusiast with a Raspberry Pi news website.
Another project I’ve been involved with in the last year has been the Manchester CoderDojo. This is a youth club for kids learning to code and make things. This was started in December 2012 by Steven Flower, and we started out at Madlab but after a few months outgrew the space and moved to a new venue at the Sharp Project. I volunteered as a mentor and coach at each of the events in 2013 up to November, where I ran sessions in Python, HTML/CSS, WordPress and using the Raspberry Pi. I recently revamped the website and set up a Pi Weekly style newsletter we now send out to parents and supporters.
User groups and Conferences
I have been attending user groups in Sheffield and Manchester since late 2009 / early 2010, and this year has been my peak in attendance. This year I’ve been regularly attending Python North West, PHPNW, XP Manchester, manc.js, Manchester Maths Jam, IMA North West Talks, Manchester Werewolf and Preston GeekUp, as well as helping out with Manchester Girl Geeks, volunteering for Manchester CoderDojo and running Manchester Raspberry Jam. I visited a few events further from home, as one-offs, such as the York Raspberry Jam and Blackpool GeekUp I gave many talks at these user groups throughout the year, the majority related to Raspberry Pi. I gave a total of 32 talks in 2013, including a discussion panel at the Raspberry Jamboree and a couple of talks at user groups in Berlin.
This year I submitted my first patch to Ubuntu – a fix for the Guake package (Quake-style dropdown terminal) which was merged in to Ubuntu 13.10 (Raring Ringtail) and then-upcoming 13.10 (Saucy Salamander). See the changelog on launchpad.
In mid-October, around the time I celebrated 1 year at OH Digital, I was invited to visit the Raspberry Pi Foundation and was offered a job there. Obviously I accepted, and made plans to move to Cambridge. Prior to this opportunity I had no intention to leave Manchester, and certainly wasn’t looking for a reason to move on from my job or from the city – but the chance to work full time promoting the thing I have dedicated much of my time and effort to advocate purely because I believed in it and the Foundation’s mission – meant that there was no hesitation in taking the opportunity to move. I moved at the end of November, two weeks after my final Jam – which was a huge success, and a great chance for me to show the Foundation what I’ve been building up over the last 18 months.
Around the time this happened I had just started taking driving lessons again, and I managed to pass my test a week before I moved to Cambridge – although I didn’t get a car until around Christmas. Finally at the age of 25 I am no longer a pedestrian!
My role at the Foundation will be in development and outreach. Initially I’ll be working on a revamp for the website, which will be launching early 2014, diversifying the content to include educational resources, projects and such in a way that helps young people learn and aids teachers delivering material, so as to progress with the Foundation’s educational objectives. Also I will be working with young people, speaking about Raspberry Pi at events, helping to make the learning experience with Raspberry Pi more engaging, doing general outreach and fulfilling the Foundation’s mission as well as writing educational material, building tools, working on Pi projects and doing further development and maintenance on the website. I was there for three weeks before heading back to Sheffield for Christmas, and loved it so far. I’m getting on really well with the team, and getting the chance to see the amazing things we have in development. Big things coming in 2014! We hit the 2.3 million sales mark at the end of 2013, which is incredible. We also have the wonderful award winning teacher and new author Carrie Anne Philbin joining the team (starting tomorrow!) which I’m particularly excited about, and very pleased for her to (like me) be getting the chance to work on what she loves. See my introduction: Welcome Ben! and my first contribution to the Raspberry Pi blog: Pi Powered Ping Pong Pursuit.
I plan to start a CodeClub in Cambridge in 2014. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but never had the chance. Now I’m working for the Foundation it’s important for me to get involved in this and see how young people learn, how they interact with technology and other people, and what they find interesting and engaging. As well as providing the means for a group of young people to learn to code and build things, I will be learning lots about the process for myself. Starting a CodeClub is something of a resolution of mine for the new year – and I’ll also try to personally do more hands-on projects, particularly with the Pi. I’ll also aim to make my way through some books I’ve had but not worked through yet – particularly Seven Languages In Seven Weeks. It’s about time.
Thanks to all the friends I made in Manchester – particularly those involved in the machinery of the tech community, who really do make things happen for people, and often (without realising it) get the ball rolling for many people’s personal and professional lives, and put them on a path to where they ought to be. Special thanks to Madlab founders Dave Mee & Hwa Young, who gave me the chance to learn, and then the chance to shine; to Andrew Disley, who ran Manchester GeekUp – which was my gateway to all of this; to Jag & Hannah Goraya who ran the Sheffield tech scene (Jag hosted my first ever tech event); to Steven Flower for doing what he does so well, and bringing out the best in people; to Sam Tuke who helps me understand and appreciate freedom; to Jeremy Coates for always keeping an eye on me; to Jon Spriggs for helping me and others do anything we want to do, and for sharing all he has with the world (with such passion); to Robie Basak and Sam Headleand for being alongside me all this year; to Lisa Mather for being like a second Mum; to Les Pounder for making great things happen and living the dream; and to all the geeks of the North West scene who’ve been like a family to me the last few years.