By Eimear Dodd Journalism MA student, @Irish_TechNews, Picture credit: Ali Tollervey

Dr Sue Black is Honorary Professor of Computer Science at University College London, social entrepreneur, writer and public speaker and a UK government advisor. She was awarded an OBE in 2016 for services to technology. Dr Sue Black was recently in Dublin to speak at an event. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed. I began by asking about the topic of her keynote address.

I was sharing stories of very difficult times in my life a long time ago now, thankfully. I talked that how my life was disrupted by other people. I decided that‘s not how it was going to work anymore. I was going to disrupt myself instead. That’s why I’ve done things like campaign to save Bletchley Park, set up the UK’s first online network for women in computing BCSWomen and set up my social enterprise #techmums to teach technology to mums, particularly disadvantaged mums.

I had to change myself to do these things. I was a really shy person who didn’t have much confidence but I forced myself to do these things in the knowledge that the outcome would be better than if I didn’t. The aim of talking about it is to encourage other people not to drift through life. Think about what you really want and put yourself out there to change your own life. We only get one life so we have to make the most of it.

Was that part of the inspiration for #techmums?

I guess it was really. I had a difficult situation at home where I ended up in a women’s refuge with my kids for six months, thirty years ago. I got a council flat in an inner city area of London and I had to start our lives again. I loved maths at school so I got onto a maths course at the local college and that lead me to a degree in computing then a PhD in software engineering. That completely changed my life and our family’s prospects.

A few years ago, I wanted to help other mums facing similar situations or who left school early because they didn’t have a great time with education. Our programme teaches basic tech skills like app design, web design, social media, staying safe online and a bit of coding. #techmums is all about helping mums to achieve their potential. I think mums are the ones who look after everyone else. What we’re doing is giving them some skills and confidence around technology.

My target is to reach one million mums by 2020. I think if you don’t try to do something ambitious then why are you doing it? Again, you only get one life so why not try to create the change that you want to see? For me, if we can get to a million mums by 2020 then I’ll be happy. If we can do it sooner, then I’ll be even happier.

Is it primarily based in the UK?

It’s also being taught as part of the women into technology course in Tallaght. We’re putting stuff online so people can do it all over the world. We’re also piloting a new way where you can run #techmums yourself with materials we send you. We’re piloting with 500 mums over the next few months and I’m confident that’s going to go really well. Then we’ll aim to go across the UK and then across the world.

What you see as the future opportunities with tech?

There are so many because all jobs are going to involve technology of some sort. People seem to think I’m teaching mums tech skills so they can go into tech jobs. For me, we’re teaching mums tech skills so they can do any job that involves technology. #techmums is all about showing what opportunities are out there and pointing mums in a direction to make the most of it to have a successful life for themselves and their kids.

Not every mum is going to have a career in technology but some of them will. I’m really keen to create loads of female role models in technology. In the UK, most people don’t have basic technology skills. If we can teach basic skills to mums in ten hours, two hours a week for five weeks, then anyone can learn this stuff. And I think we all need to be equipped with these basic tech skills. We’re focusing on mums but the whole country should be doing this because that’s where the jobs of the future are. If you don’t have a tech savvy workforce then you haven’t got a workforce.

Who are the influencers you follow online/social media?

So many. I absolutely adore Twitter. I used it running the campaign to save Bletchley Park so that’s how I got into it 10 years ago. My influencers are my Twitter stream and my friends.

Is there anything that you’d like to add/think I should have asked?

I’m currently writing the Pelican Guide to Coding for Penguin. I wrote a book called Saving Bletchley Park with my friend Stevyn Colgan. It’s been a great success and has 60 five star reviews on Amazon. After publishing that, Penguin in the UK got in touch to say they wanted me to write the Pelican Guide to Coding. It’s due to be published in 2018.

There is a digital revolution happening. Dr Sue Black, Daily Mirror tech agony aunt,Top 50 EU Tech Woman


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