Computer Science is back…with a new twist and a new mentor! This year we have Dani Walsh, Software Engineer at BorgWarner Inc, with heaps of experience in the information technology and services industry. Dani was warmly welcomed as the creative area with the most schools signed up – Boldon School, Jarrow School, Whitburn Church of England Academy and Whitley Bay High School all wanting to find out more. With a mountain of memory sticks and a room filled with computers, the Insight Stage commenced…

The morning began with an introduction to Dani and her journey to becoming a Software Engineer.

“I began with my creation of Harry Potter fanpages at the grand age of 10 and putting everyone else in Slytherin. I talked about the career progression of a curious coder at 10, to A-Level Computing at college, Ethical Hacking for Computer Security Degree at Northumbria University and then finally a sponsorship with BorgWarner (formerly Sevcon)”.

The story in itself captured the minds of students in the room – what is ethical hacking? What is exactly out there in this industry? Well, Dani filled them in on it all, covering Game Technology, Web Technology, Cyber Security, Python and Embedded Software wherein each section they talked about the careers and roles followed by development in that area.

The schools then had the opportunity to explore coding with music using Sonic Pi, played “Code Combat” which you must use the programming language ‘Python’ in order to complete the levels. Every school created a Magic Tree using web languages to make it answer questions. It was great to see the Magic Tree take on so many variations and show the promise and creativity of the generation to come.

Next up, students did an entire hour session on Cyber Security to learn about the different types of Hacker, the consequences of it and how we can protect ourselves and businesses. The sessions always closed with using Microbits to learn about Embedded Software (which is Dani’s field in Computer Science) where they made dice and flashed LEDs! I know…even writing this has left me feeling envious!

The students were all polite, respectful and listened to every word. They all tried every task and asked a lot of fascinating questions. Dani even mentioned that she was just as nervous as them, taking on the new and exciting role in the TICE team. Within minutes, the student’s enthusiasm and encouragement were enough to make her feel at ease. The Whitburn Academy level of skill was amazing and they all understood Python very well! They solved the password generation challenges in cyber security very quickly. Jarrow showed a lot of young people with a lot of promise, showing the most flair and creativity with the Magic Tree activity. Whitley Bay had a lot of kids demonstrating leadership and collaborating often on the tasks and got on very well considering there were a lot of technical issues! Boldon, although never seen Python before all managed to create a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. It seemed that all schools had their own take on the day which of course, resulted in a proud (and equally exhausted) smile on Dani’s face at the end of every session.

Students seemed immersed in the experience, only wanting to find out more:

“Based on the information our mentor [Dani] gave us I was really interested in the programming aspect of computer science, like programming things to move and create things. So that is something I’d like to know more about.”

“It was interesting to see how different styles of code can produce amazing finished products. In conclusion, I had a very interesting day and I learnt a lot of things which made me want to get a job to do with computer science.”

“Another thing was that the staff was really pleasant. Me and James were talking about things from graphics cards to video games and Danny DeVito. Also, Danni was a really good teacher and I feel that I learned a lot from her on Tuesday and I feel I can learn even more from her in the future.”

Before the insight day took off, it was clear that the Game Technology areas were the most popular with many of the young people wanting to explore careers as Game designers or programmers. Then after the Cyber Security session, many of them had changed their mind as they didn’t even know it was a career option. This is one of the many things we do at TICE – showing young people just how vast the creative and digital industries can be. We can’t wait to see this year’s students explore even further in the world of Computer Science.