Written by Dr Sue Black

Lifestyle

The mother of invention

When Dr Sue Black set up #techmums she didn’t realise she was doing it for her 25 year-old struggling self. As the programme goes online, she reflects on how far she’s come.

Sue Black outside the Computer History MuseumTwenty-nine years ago I was a single mum living on a council estate in Brixton with three small children. I’d ended up there after my marriage broke down, my ex-husband became violent, and for some reason him hitting me had become kind of acceptable, but him hitting the kids wasn’t.

On 17 December 1987, walking home with our children from my four year-old daughter’s first ever performance in a nativity play he hit one of my 21 month-old twin sons around the head, knocking him over into a puddle. I was utterly horrified.

That was the catalyst for us to leave, which we did the next day. We lived in a women’s refuge for six months and then finally got our flat in Brixton, which we lived in for 18 years.

After a few weeks getting the flat sorted I started trying to work out what I was going to do to make sure that my children had the sort of life chances that I wanted for them. I had no money and no family support (I’ll leave that story for another day). So what did I have?

I decided that the best thing I could do would be to get an education in maths as that had been my favourite subject at school. If I got an education I could earn a decent salary; if I went straight out and got a job I would probably be on minimum wage. I was 25 and had left school at 16 with five O-levels.

I took a maths course at the local college, then did a degree in computing. I’d always got excited about technology but didn’t know that much about it. The degree led to a PhD in software engineering then a 20-year career in technology, which I still love.

A few years ago, possibly as part of a midlife crisis, I decided that I needed to do something about the fact that technology is portrayed so negatively in the media. So many people I’ve spoken to throughout my career when I’ve mentioned that I work in tech, have talked about all the negative aspects and hardly at all about the positive aspects. This got me thinking that I really wanted to do something about it.

“When I set #techmums up I didn’t really realise that I was creating a programme for myself – it would have been ideal for me when I was that scared and lonely 25-year-old mum on my own trying to create a better life for my kids.”

I started running workshops teaching kids coding and app design, then realised that when we brought the parents in to have a go, in general the dads would get stuck in and the mums would do the opposite. I started thinking that if I really wanted to change the way people see technology, starting with mums might be a good place.

I found out that the biggest influencing factors on kids doing well in literacy and numeracy at age 11 were the mums’ education and their home environment. So, I reasoned, if I could get mums excited by technology I would not only affect them in a positive way, but also their kids.

Targeting mums and getting them tech-savvy would also create loads of awesome kick-ass women in tech role models. Championing women in tech has also been one of my big passions over the last 20 years; I set up the UK’s first online network for women in tech, BCSWomen, in 1998.

Sue presenting Sinead Kelly from An Cosán with her #techmums trainer certificate.

I put together a broad and fun programme, focusing on app design, web design, social media, staying safe online and coding in Python and called it #techmums. I got the programme accredited by e-Skills and started running it with mums in London’s East End in 2012.

We have had some great successes with mums getting jobs, improving their businesses, going back into education and best of all feeling more confident online and more kick-ass.

Now, almost five years on, we have run #techmums in London, Dublin, Nottingham and across Essex. We are now working on creating a million #techmums by 2020. To achieve that we are putting the #techmums programme online.

When I set #techmums up I didn’t really realise that I was creating a programme for myself – it would have been ideal for me when I was that scared and lonely 25-year-old mum on my own with three small children trying to create a better life for my kids – but I think that’s what I’ve done. I know now how education and technology can change your life.

I’m now a confident mum of four and grandmother of one. My older kids are now in their 30s leading happy and successful lives. I’ve had a great career and want as many mums as possible to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. The #techmums programme aims to create one million kickass, tech-savvy mums around the world by 2020. Are you one of them?

techmums.co
@TechmumsHQ
@Dr_Black

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Written by Dr Sue Black

Dr Sue Black OBE is a computer scientist and the author of Saving Bletchley Park. Photo: Ali Tollervey.