With a new curriculum on its way, Rachel Swidenbank wants to teach the UK to code
Rachel Swidenbank is head of UK operations at educational startup Codecademy. The site was founded in 2011, and has had more than 24 million people use its online platform for free programming courses, in particular through its Hour of Code iOS app and the and the Code Year course.
Codecademy set up in the UK in May 2014, led by Swidenbank, a former teacher and management consultant.It has already formed alliances with the voluntary school-based programme Code Club.
Help for teachers
What has been your favourite project so far?
In the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to UK teachers about the new curriculum and learning from them what tools would make their lives easier when teaching computing. Many said they found using Codecademy extremely helpful, but that it would be even better if there was a dashboard that would help them keep track of every student’s progress. As a result, I’ve had the chance to work with our design and engineering teams to build the product which will hopefully make the lives of teachers a lot easier!
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
I think I was pretty similar to a lot of my friends. I used a lot of tech – mobile phone, using the internet for entertainment and school work.
What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
It’s so hard to predict because technology changes so much. But I would imagine that we’re going to be using our smartphones to access more and more services, and to control the hardware in our lives. The ‘internet of things’ phenomenon is real and we’re going to see technology in every aspect of our lives.
Connection and creativity
Who’s your tech hero?
I really admire Martha Lane Fox. She was an internet entrepreneur years before it was fashionable. As the founder of Lastminute.com, she’s obviously had huge success. But what makes her stand out is she’s continued to play a huge role in public life. Her work that led to the setting up of the Government Digital Services, being the UK Digital Champion, and now pushing the broader accessibility of the internet for those who are currently not online all amount to a pretty significant contribution.
Who’s your tech villain?
Companies that do not protect the privacy of their users.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
My favorite technology is also the one I use the most. Like a lot of people, I rarely go anywhere without my smartphone.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
I really admire Wattpad. They are sort of like the Youtube of writing. They’ve built an incredibly passionate community of authors and readers of crowd-created fiction. Their usage is incredible and I like how they go about their business.
Skills are needed
What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
I think there are two big challenges. First, companies are finding it really tough to hire enough qualified people to fill all the open roles. It is extremely difficult for companies to find the right people with the relevant skills. Secondly, it is to make sure that their existing staff is able to be sufficiently tech literate and know how to optimally use all the existing technology available.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
I’m a fan of the cloud. When we look at consumer software, so many of the most commonly used applications no longer live on our desktop but are accessed through the cloud. Similarly, enterprise software is increasingly moving to be cloud based too.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Growing up I was always fascinated with the way things worked and loved learning about outer space or watching TV shows about nature. I don’t think I was aware of the range of opportunities that exists from studying STEM subjects, so I am pretty sure if you had asked me I would have said ‘a doctor’. But the thing that excited me most about this was all of the amazing technology they use within medcine!