Raspberry Pi, revolutionising education

Engineer Eben Upton is a trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. He is also in charge of developing the software and hardware of the Raspberry Pi device.Kaamil Ahmed met with him to discuss one of most exciting startups to date and the future of generation startup.

Eben Upton talking about Raspberry Pi

Old Street. Tech City. Silicon Roundabout. Those are the names associated with the growing community of small tech-based start ups blooming on the edges of the City. The increasing strength of this community has led to it being closely associated with this notion of ‘generation startup’ we’re so fond of discussing here at Teles.co/pe. It’s a more than reasonable link; the web-based apps that are being created are made with minimal resources by people with ideas and not necessarily much else. But just because an area of tech has come to symbolise the ‘generation’ that doesn’t mean that world of technology is heading that way. At least, that’s according to Eben Upton.

Upton engineered the Raspberry Pi, a dead-cheap computer built to teach kids how to programme. Despite some great innovation on show by the people behind those Tech City startups, many are limited by the fact that they don’t have a complete understanding of the hardware, as well as software, that they use. Even for someone coding an app, getting involved in other areas of tech development can often be a fearsome endeavor, which limits their abilities says Upton.

“Is this generation start-up?” he asks back, “In tech, no. It’s easy for me to say because I think of startups that turn basic research into business.”

What Upton is referring to is his desire to see startups that don’t just try and fill a niche but try to completely revolutionise things. The education process, from school up to University, is flawed and that’s where Raspberry Pi comes in.

“Universities are good at giving a theoretical gloss. I think you need both the hacking ability and the formal stuff,” says Upton. “I hope we’ll have people going to Uni and knowing how computers work. You can leave now, not knowing how computers work.”

By gradually rolling out these basic computers to young people, Upton is hoping to break down the barriers that stop people really understanding computers and ultimately limiting their potential. Even for a web developer who has no everyday need to understand all the mechanics of a computer, he says: “If you know you could, nothing is mysterious.”

Raspberry Pi will hopefully be available to most students within a few years and will give them a chance to walk away from the Excel spreadsheets that usually dominate IT lessons and into the world of programming, and for some, unlocking the ability to turn some of their business brain-waves into real products.

Raspberry Pi is a project that excites many computer enthusiasts who had the chance to cultivate programming skills at a young age. Like them, Upton reminisces about the past when he explains what he hopes Raspberry Pi will lead to.

“I had a lot of intimidatingly bright friends. I hope there’ll be a new generation like that.”

Self-employed or Unemployable?

There seems to be a common understanding that stating you are an entrepreneur deems you unfit for the working world of 9-5ers. But is it true that an enterprising individual can consider the office doors of employers locked forever?

Starting your own business comes with more than business cards and a set of accounts. It can say lots about your personality, that you are driven, ambitious, an independent thinker. But when do those characteristics work against you? Is it when it comes to applying to work?

This issue is particularly relevant to young people that have started up a business today. The arguments for self-employment, the freedom and independence, are pretty clear – but that may not be the whole story. One assumption is that starting up a business is motivated by the desire to avoid more conventional career options. It is interesting to consider the job climate and the changing motivations to starting up. The current lack of jobs may have been a catalyst for many young people who have chosen this route meaning that while many entrepreneurs seek to avoid the constraints of being employed, lots more will have little alternative and employment in another company may well be a future possibility. Whereas more experienced entrepreneurs may have chosen to start up on their own following years of being employed by somebody else, is this generation just left with no comparison?

With this in mind, companies may find that some of the most valuable skills (resourcefulness, motivation, determination) are in fact to be found in those who have created their own jobs. The CV is often problematic. Knowing how to present your own venture amongst the skills and experience you have picked up through education and employment can be a tricky one. How will a potential employer judge an entrepreneur against other candidates? Will it be assumed that you’re unable to work for others, too independent, selfish, even disloyal?

The truth is that these assumptions are difficult to justify. Personal development is important for everyone, at any stage of his or her career and the chances are that an entrepreneur is more aware of what they have to offer a company. If it’s a job application, there is a reason why you’ve applied. Personal development should be part of the motivation behind any job application, the more clear those motivations are, the more likely the employer is going to understand where the candidate is coming from.
Entrepreneurial doesn’t have to mean you want to run off and start a new business every few months. For most people, the label ‘entrepreneurial’ has more to do with the way they think than the things they think about. It is about innovation, coming up with new concepts, being able to highlight opportunities, all things that can be invaluable to an employer.

Rob Blythe is co-founder of an internship and graduate recruitment company called Instant Impact, who specialise in uniting fast-growing SMEs with top students and graduates.

‘Entrepreneurs develop a range of skills that can be invaluable to the small and fast growing companies that we work with. Chief amongst these is a mental flexibility and what most people call being a ‘self-starter’. When growing quickly time is scarce and employees who can be counted on to go the extra mile are extremely valuable. When setting up a company there is no one to ask about how to register for VAT or what software package to buy, you have to figure it out for yourself. Hiring an entrepreneur means that you can give them complex problems and expect them to go over and above the brief with very little additional direction. There is always a risk that great people may leave your business but that doesn’t mean that you should settle for second best!’

While this might well be generation startup in efforts to avoid being generation unemployed, it probably isn’t generation unemployable.