It does not matter whether you are in Guildford or in Nairobi, it seems that it is never hard to get 10 and 11 year-old girls to chat. Recently I met about 30 of them over TelePresence, (Cisco’s high definition video conferencing). The aim of the meeting was to inspire them to consider careers in IT in the future and was designed to be a question and answer session. Having introduced myself and explained how I got into the IT industry many moons ago, the floor was all theirs.
Questions came flooding at me and the pressure was on to make a good impression. Despite the distance between them, I was immediately struck by the similarities of the girls – all in their smart school uniform, all smiling at me and a few girls gave me a little wave. Their respective teachers introduced the schools and that was where the similarity ended. The girls in Nairobi were from a deprived slum area whilst the girls from Guildford were mainly middle class. The questions they asked however were very different. Yes I was asked the usual questions such as “How did I get into IT?” “Do I like my job?” “What do I do?” etc . However the girls in Nairobi wanted to know how I got work, how long did it take me to get there, how many hours did I work and then they asked me probably the most poignant question of the session. “Does your technology help people in drug rehabilitation centres?” Wow, that question was so telling on many levels! By the way I didn’t know the answer but was able to explain how our technology Healthpresence is enabling doctors and hospitals to see more patients remotely and is extending the reach of healthcare.. The question was also in stark contrast from one of the Guildford girls who wanted to know what was the colour of my toothbrush! The last question asked was “ What was my most prized possession?” No prizes for guessing which school asked this one but I hope both schools took a few minutes to think about my response. I said “ it is not a possession as such but my answer is my HEALTH”.
I then left the meeting so the girls could get to know each other better. I felt very privileged to have taken part and very humbled by the girls in Nairobi. I cannot really imagine what their lives are like on a daily basis or whether or not I inspired them but I hope they left the session with something constructive to talk about! The meeting has certainly left it’s footprint on me, more so than I expected. The children were so similar in their openness, friendliness and willingness to participate. However the use of the Cisco office would have sheltered the girls from Guildford from the harsh reality their new friends from Nairobi face each day and would have made it difficult for them to really comprehend their differences. Hopefully this would have been a good thing – the real understanding that we are not that different from each other after all!