Design studios are putting users at the centre of modern IT development. They stimulate multi-disciplinary teams to employ Design Thinking, agile, and DevOps to start delivering technology and iterate. Learning and adapting sustains alignment to user needs.
Organisations are now investing in redesigning their offices to encourage these new ways of working more widely. Yesterday, was a chance for me to explore how such thinking can be applied in secondary education with the development of a new Science, Maths and IT centre in a local school. Representatives from many technology companies assembled to discuss how the needs of business could be reflected in its design. It is an opportunity create a physical space able to inspire wider interest in STEM and better support teaching. Clearly it can’t all be open plan. Organisations have created pods and rooms for quiet working, and schools need classrooms. However, the design point has changed.
Developing soft skills including story telling, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration were seen as most important. It is necessary to have the flexibility to adapt the physical space to accommodate learning in many areas, not limited to technology and science. So, the centre is more than banks of computers and labs, and some areas may be free of technology.
Everyone present had reinvented themselves multiple times in their careers. Whilst technology is constantly changing, many foundational skills are enduring. These include engineering principles, good enough design, coding principles, data exploration, continuous improvement, probability and algorithm development. Then learning how to think about the application of technology and the implications becomes important. Considerations include assessment of risk, ethics and handling bias.
One trend we are seeing in industry is the breaking down of barriers between organisational silos. Building a new STEM centre, and similarly centres dedicated to other fields including art, music and drama, encourages physical separation. It reinforces a myth in today’s world that school children become categorised as technical or not. However, in a similar way that every subject uses English, technology is present in all fields. Teaching of every subject can be freed from its building.
The school’s centre can also embrace wider interests by collaborating with the local University and local technology businesses to showcase technology. It will also welcome junior school pupils. The appeal of STEM subjects is to be encouraged at all ages, and not seen as a binary choice. Rather on a spectrum for all spanning general education and deep specialisation.
I offered quantum computing as one example of where we should be aiming. By the time the centre is built and the next generation girls benefit in their secondary education, quantum computing may be widespread. It is a story of science now being applied in technology. Engineering challenges are being overcome, and quantum computers will be able to run mathematical algorithms that can cannot scale on today’s architectures. Quantum illustrates STEM in a nutshell, provoking consideration of design, bias, ethics and human judgement is use.
So it is also about people. The centre can promote role models, telling the stories of women who pioneered technology as a constant reminder and inspiration for future generations of girls. They can reach the top. IBM has appointed 305 Fellows since 1963 who have changed the world. It is a pinnacle of technical achievement. The 2019 cohort is four men and four women.