By Robyn Brown
I often get asked about the origin story for Bold Idea. To be honest, I struggle to provide an answer — mostly because it was not a simple, one-time "aha" moment, but rather a long series of events and serendipitous conversations. Even today, the organization has evolved from my original idea, and it's my hope that it will continue to evolve for the better as we expand our leadership team and test the program.
Rather than provide a linear timeline of events, I'll touch on the foundational elements of our organization and why I believe so strongly in them.
Often what we create and become as an adult is what we wish we had as a young person. For me, it was a mentor. I wish, as a teen, that I had an older sister or a young woman to encourage me, to show me that there was more to life after High School. I had no clue what opportunities were possible for me and little confidence in my abilities.
Could I be that mentor to a younger person, maybe a 16-year-old with unlimited creativity and courage, who just needs encouragement? And that’s what I did. For the past ten years, I've served as a mentor to dozens of teen and college-age girls as a Girl Scout troop leader. We go on college tours, tent camp, out to dinner or simply meet at Starbucks to talk about life and school. We even went on a dinosaur dig once — how cool is that?! They know I have their back and would go out of my way for them.
It’s my firm belief that any student — girl or boy — deserves a chance. Their ideas should be nurtured and taken seriously. I've worked with girls who other adults wrote off and are now thriving young women. Computer science is a challenging subject for any new learner that demands creativity, critical thinking and problem solving – skills not exactly honed well in today's standardized-testing education environment. Let’s sit alongside students as they learn to code – believe in them, encourage them and challenge them.
Anything worth doing should be done together. There's a reason I mentor teams of girls rather than just individuals, as in similar youth organizations. The girls need support from each other and not just their mentor. I've enjoyed watching them build strong friendships and collaborate on service projects. We sit around a campfire, talk or laugh — you can feel that there’s a real bond.
Relationships are critical in life. I could not have gotten this far in the organization without the people on my team who validate my ideas and build on them. There’s a mentality that we're all in this together — we build together, we learn together and we see the outcomes together. From trivia night to bowling and numerous shared meals, we also play well together!
Our team also wants to dispel the notion that coding is a loner activity done in a windowless room with zero social interaction. Rather, it's team-based and collaborative in well-lit, open environments. Coding education should reflect that. We are building a program with small teams of students and mentors who learn together and complete projects together. Experience leads me to believe that the outcomes of this model will be stronger than individual learning.
It was never our intention to teach students to code for the sake of coding or even to feed the computer science pipeline at universities. Computer science is — and has always been — about helping people, making their lives easier and the world better for all of us. There's a great phrase by Bill Ferriter, a "radical" educator, that conveys this idea the best: Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome. For us, coding is the tool for students to build technology solutions to social issues.
I remember social impact always being a part of the idea for our program — though now it's central to our purpose. I owe a lot of that to The Grove, the West End neighborhood-based co-working space where Bold Idea was born. There, I met people like Chirag Gupta who sparked the original idea and Ben Davis and Chelsea Masters who would eventually join the founding team, plus the numerous people who have contributed advice. The Grove is unique, encouraging its members to pursue ideas that support a social mission. I think that's what drove many of us to join in the first place and connect so well together.
I am blessed that I was raised by parents who so easily help those around them. Not because we should "do our part to make the world a better place" or to feel good about ourselves — it’s just what you do. When your elderly neighbor's washing machine breaks down, you fix it. When a single mom needs a break, you step in to watch her kids. My dad serves lunches in the summer at a mobile home park in our town for kids on the school lunch program. Because of their influence, I don't have to consider how or if I serve others. It's ingrained in me. Well, obviously you help your community!
I am not a coder by profession, though I’m learning. I've spent the past ten years of my professional life writing marketing content for software companies and technology startups. I loved working in the technology space, lending my writing talents to engineer and developer teams. These were (mostly) brilliant and kind people, who were building awesome things — whether 4D subsurface modeling using an Xbox or DAS antennas in sports stadiums so fans could share photos over a reliable network. I geeked out over what they built, and they loved including me on their teams, and explaining features and use cases to me.
From that experience, I came to understand how much we rely on technology every day without even realizing it. The world is changing rapidly, and we have a greater need for technology solutions that will propel us forward as a society — from curing disease and meeting energy demand to feeding growing populations and democratizing knowledge. And the role of builder is no longer relegated to career technologists. Professions as diverse as doctors, marketing directors, teachers and accountants must become proficient in coding. It's not a future outlook, it's happening now. And really — why prepare kids for their future when we can prepare them to be builders now?
This hasn't answered the question, "why me?" Maybe I'm bold enough to want to do something about it. Maybe the past 10+ years has just been a buildup to this point so I could gain the communication and organizing skills, plus the connections, to make this a reality. And again, I can’t do this alone. It takes a team of passionate people who work together to make this outreach possible. I love working with my passionate team members because together we create something that didn't exist before we got connected.