I’m sure you’ve come across the fact that computers are ubiquitous in your child’s environment. Kids today use computers almost naturally even without even noticing that there are microprocessors inside or software involved at all. One could say “Who cares?”, but I feel that kids should at least be aware that computers are everywhere and understand how this “stuff” actually works.
You could ask why is it important for a child to know how computers work. Isn’t it just enough to use it? Some would agree, but I don’t. One reason is that understanding how nature and things around us work moves humans towards new ideas and inventions. Children are on the sunny side when creativity and fun come into play. They jump right into new adventures when it’s fun and try out things that adults wouldn’t even dream of.
Another reason to bring kids closer to computers is that the amount of work that goes into hardware and software is so unbelievably high but, at the same time, so intangible that most people have no idea and thus no appreciation of what it actually means to produce it. Have you ever wondered what it takes to develop a game for your mobile phone that you can download for just a Euro or a Dollar? Most likely you haven’t – nor could you, because software is such an abstract thing that most of us have no clue about it and hence cannot develop an appreciation for it.
Furthermore, there are groups of people who are afraid of computers becoming too intelligent. But, if you learn how these things actually work it is easier then to understand why computers are still as “stupid” as they are and why they sometimes just crash without further upfront notice (actually, because some human who programmed them didn’t foresee what you really wanted to do with them...).
So why do we share our time with kids at AOE? Because we want to give them a look behind the scenes of the computer. And this is two-fold: On the one hand they should see how a computer workplace can (or should) look like and that it is fun to work in such an environment. On the other hand, we want to open a completely new world for them. A world where they can see that computers are something that you cannot only use but where you actually have the power to control them and make them do exactly what you want – even as a child or a youngster! It is not about educating the children to become programmers but giving them a chance to look into the black box and get a feeling about what is happening inside.
The idea of the Devoxx4Kids was born as a “child” of the Devoxx, which is one of the biggest Developer Conferences in Europe. A conference is an event developers attend to learn something new and to have fun. They take part in many of the sessions and are often inspired by one or several topics – from which they bring home ideas that eventually influence their work.
The Devoxx4Kids (Wiesbaden) is based on exactly the same idea: A conference for children where they spend their time, get inspired by what they see and maybe continue with some of the things they experienced after returning home or even in the long run. In a fun way they get to know methods that developers would call programming techniques (such as loops and conditions) but without noticing that they actually just wrote their first software program. Imagine how proud they are when they finally notice what they accomplished! One thing that is really special though is that each pair of kids has the luxury of one mentor who guides them through the whole day and takes care of them.
In school, IT lessons usually (and unfortunately) concentrate on how to use software such as word processors, spreadsheet programs or how to create presentations, all of which is probably helpful but doesn’t explain how it all works. We want our new generation of kids to know why this all works and why the computer sometimes doesn’t react the way they expect it to.
AOE cares about a healthy work-life balance for its employees and makes sure that work and family are a happy fit. Thus, it is no surprise that we think about our children and those of others, and how we can explain to them what we do at work. I would say it is in AOE’s DNA and part of our culture to care for people’s families (both AOE families as well as external ones); hence, organizing a Devoxx4Kids event is something that enthused many of my colleagues right from the start.
Therefore, we (and many groups around the world) have built entertaining workshops that let the kids enjoy the day without having the feeling that they’re going to just another school lesson.
The Devoxx4Kids people spent thousands of hours all around the world in their spare time and all have had the experience how grateful and enthusiastic the kids are.
Let me share one comment by a father that we received a few days after the conference; I think it speaks for itself: