Young Rewired State 2013

Doesn’t time fly. It only seems a moment ago that I was in the St James’ Park room at Google’s Victoria HQ, hacking away at the inaugural Young Rewired State in 2009. There were fifty of us - many of us didn’t know each other - and we spent the best part of a weekend hacking on all sorts of things.

At its core, Young Rewired State has not changed: it’s still in relentless pursuit of getting young people to learn code and make things together. However, in its fifth year, you’d be hard-pressed to find many more similarities. This time, there were more than 600 young people taking part, in almost 40 centres all around the United Kingdom. Hacking took place all week, and then everyone converged on The Custard Factory in Birmingham for what’s now dubbed the “Festival of Code”.

What struck me most about the Festival of Code was the marvelous atmosphere. There wasn’t a single space in The Custard Factory where people weren’t hacking, presenting, or sharing ideas with each other. In the face of adversity, you could see the teamwork in action: when the provision of power was lacking at the overnight venue, it only took a matter of minutes for people to work together to chain dozens of extension leads across the room (and to hide them from security too).

This year, I was kindly asked to judge two of the heats, where I watched presentations about 40 different hacks. Now that I’m too old to hack at YRS, being on the other side of the room for the first time felt quite peculiar. There were just so many brilliant and complete hacks being demonstrated. The young people were not just technically proficient: they came across as capable and comfortable at presenting too.

In my heats, I was particularly impressed by PiCycle, a bicycle with turn-by-turn navigation;, a simulation of how a virus could spread through a school; and Train Tracker, a live map showing the position of trains across the UK. PiCycle and went forward to win top prizes in the finals.

If you’ve never taken part before, I cannot recommend Young Rewired State enough. Sign-ups for next year are already open on the YRS website.