“This is great! We need more engineers! We need more computer programmers!” People often assume that I started Gadget Lab to encourage the study of computers and engineering and for good reason. The series of GadgetHead workshops offers the equivalent of a mini degree in electronics, software and mechanical engineering.
But my goal isn’t to steer anyone toward a career in anything. My goal is to create teachers, artists, writers, engineers, plumbers and coders who know how things work and who feel empowered to create and upload instead of just consuming and downloading.
Maybe that’s why I don’t regret my liberal arts background. It gave me the tools to write this post. And I don’t regret that I coached soccer instead of leaning in. That experience taught me crowd control and how to communicate.
Likewise, I hope Gadget Lab will be part of a student’s broader experience and will contribute to careers that I haven’t even imagined. But among the skills required for future success I think the most important will be the willingness to learn something that seems hard at first, to work with tools that don’t plug and play and to try to understand how things work from the bottom up. These are the skills and traits that will serve our future workforce.
I don’t know exactly what careers will available to today’s children. Already computers can write both software code and informative prose. They can check out our groceries and perform delicate surgery. Technology has automated and simplified tasks that once required great skill. But what I do know is that no one will pay our kids to do something easy. So acquiring the persistence to pursue something complex, to be the creator of that plug and play technology, that brilliant essay or that soaring aria, that’s where the future lies. I hope Gadget Lab will help develop both the personal traits and the skills that our kids will need to create that future.
A year ago, when I created Gadget Lab, I thought I was creating a community where kids and adults could learn the skills to create their own gadgetry. During that year, I came to realize that the creative process requires more than skills, it requires stamina and inspiration hopefully mixed with a large dose of joy. Finding the balance between developing persistence while keeping it fun is a journey that I expect will keep taking me to new places and to new discoveries. I plan to document them here. I hope you’ll join me.