Like many people I can’t stand modern celebrity culture. The worship of people with no discernible skills beyond being famous – or the odd sex movie. Kim Kardashian leaves me cold and I have no knowledge of Big Brother contestants since Craig won series 1.
But every so often I meet someone truly inspiring. Some time ago I bumped into Ellen Macarthur in my local bank. It was soon after she had given up her lead position in a round the world race to save a fellow sailor ( who was French which is why the French also love her). I just had to say hello and how much I admired her. It just so happened that at the time a friend was sailing in a round the world race and her Skipper was a friend of Ellen’s and Ellen was following it as keenly online as I was. So I managed to have a fifteen minute conversation with Ellen Macarthur about sailing – me , who couldn’t tell the difference between a rhumb line and a rum and coke, me, who hates water, but boy (buoy?!) I make a great armchair sailor.
I was similarly star struck last Friday. Roamer had been invited to take part in a launch event for this year’s code week. Two hundred children arrived at Base KX in North London for a series of workshops including making Roamer dance. The day started with several speakers. One described his passion for coding from his earliest computer (photo shown on screen behind him) to the current day. Next up was Jane Butler. I’d never heard of her but as she came up to the mic she casually said – “I helped design that computer”. Wow! what an entrance. It transpired that Jane has started several companies – including Cisco. Yes, Cisco! She told her audience of Primary school children how lucky they were to have this opportunity and recounted her school experience – when she was 15 she decided she wanted to be an engineer and mentioned it to a teacher. She was immediately called into the Headmistresses office and told that girls couldn’t be engineers and she would be better off as a secretary. The Head sent her to secretarial classes (they have proved to be very useful subsequently because she can now touch type). Luckily her parents were very forward thinking and supportive so she did go on to study engineering at university. I was chatting to some of the students about how inspiring she is when a colleague said that she had a whole host of stories like that…
As Director of Cisco Jane had to go to am important meeting where she was the only woman. As the men arrived they all asked her for a cup of coffee. Jane didn’t say anything she just got them their cups of coffee. But imagine how they subsequently felt when the Chair introduced the Director of Cisco and Jane stood up.
The children then went to their workshops and they made Roamer dance and there was no discernible difference between the boys and girls. We have come a long way. (See full report of workshop here)