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My life through tech and what it's taught me

In conversation with Gareth Stockdale


It's hard to remember a time without technology – whether you're generation Walkman, iPod or TikTok. The size and shape of the technology we use may have changed over the years, but it's always been there. What will it look like for the next generation?

Gareth Stockdale believes that whatever the technology of the future looks like, everyone should have the opportunity to play a part in creating it.


Gareth is one of the original team who created the micro:bit as part of the BBC's Make It Digital initiative. Not heard of micro:bit before? It's a pocket-sized micro-controller (about half the size of a credit card), designed to inspire kids to try coding and computer skills.

We enjoyed speaking to Gareth recently. He took us on a journey through his life marked by his favourite memories around technology, from his first experiences with a computer to the moment his new phone nearly ended up in the swimming pool…

Gareth's first object: the computer

“My first experience with a computer was with the good old BBC Micro. My teacher, Mr Harbour, wheeled it into the classroom and said “This is a computer. Say hello.” It was our first computing lesson, and we did things like getting the computer to count to a million. We managed to get up to 700,000 before a classmate pressed escape and closed the programme.

When we created micro:bit we were seeking to do something that was just as impactful as the old BBC Micro. We're trying to reach the most digitally enabled generation that there has ever been – but they're very much digital consumers. We want to give them the skills to be digital creators.

Computers are now part of the everyday for younger generations, but technology can still be a source of excitement. When children first download their code onto the micro:bit and then create something with it, they get a real buzz as they can use it to do something they're passionate about. If they're into sport, they can make a step counter or scoreboard. If they're into fashion, they can make wearables. Being able to collaborate, create and solve problems is fun.”

“Children should have the skills to become digital creators – not just consumers.”
Gareth's second object: the PlayStation

“Just after I left university, around the mid-90s, I got my first PlayStation. I was living in a shared house with four other people, and we used to spend a lot of time playing on it. It was quite a social activity – although back then we all had to be in the same room.

The gaming industry is huge and very important for the UK, but it's not taken as seriously as it should be. This comes from a lack of understanding, which is often what happens with tech in general. There are real skills you can learn from gaming - problem solving, conflict resolution, leadership and collaboration. These types of industries will shape our future and so equipping young people with the skills and language to take part in these conversations is important.

There are, of course, issues within the gaming industry – many of which stem from a lack of diversity. There's a skill shortage and then, of the people that do have the right skills, there aren't enough diverse candidates. That's why micro:bit aims to bring more young girls and underrepresented groups into tech. The more diverse and inclusive the sector is, the greater chance we have of finding technology solutions that are more equitable for our society.”

“The more diverse and inclusive the technology sector is, the more equitable solutions we'll find.”
Gareth's third object: the TV

“I'm from a working-class family in Plymouth and we were very much a TV family. It went on when my dad got home and didn't go off until we went to bed. We weren't always paying attention, but it was a constant presence.

Younger generations are getting content from where they want it, when they want it. I think that's brilliant but when I was growing up you watched things that you didn't necessarily choose to, and you learned new things as a result. I remember during the holidays we once watched a 15-hour documentary series about the American Civil War…

We need to continue to harness the power of television to educate and broaden people's horizons, and not just serve them content that is funny. The BBC was founded with the mission to 'inform, educate and entertain' in mind and has a huge role to play, as has all public service broadcasting, in providing content and services that would not necessarily be provided by commercial players. The Children's Television Workshop made a huge impact by creating Sesame Street. An important part of why Sesame Street had such an impact was that it was based on research, had a mission to educate and showed an urban environment with a diverse cast. It felt representative to the children watching.

With this in mind, at micro:bit we're constantly looking at how we can challenge stereotypes about who tech is for and show children that anyone can code and be digitally creative. We also want to better localise our efforts. We translate all of our materials into a bunch of different languages, but how do we make our content contextually appropriate for those countries that we're working in, rather than just translating it? It should feel like it's for that child in that region, rather than feeling that it's been created in the UK.”

“Television can be a power for good - entertaining, informing and broadening people's horizons.”
Gareth's fourth object: the BlackBerry

“I got my first BlackBerry when I was working at an advertising agency in 2003. Being able to send emails to people while sitting in the pub in an evening felt amazing, although looking back it was a bit of a poisoned chalice in some respects. I was completely addicted to it. It got to the point where my wife threatened to throw it in the swimming pool while we were on holiday because I couldn't stop using it.

Design and physicality are still important when it comes to tech. The BlackBerry was so solid and tactile, you couldn't help but play with it. We designed the micro:bit to have the same sort of feel. It's got a five-by-five LED matrix, it can sense temperature and light, it's got an accelerometer and a compass. You can't stop pressing the buttons and feeling it in your hands, and I think that's so important in getting people to make a connection between the digital and physical.

Everything is so nicely packaged now, with brilliant UX, that we often don't need to know how or why it works. By giving children a physical tool that exposes the technology inside, and teaching them about it, you're empowering them to create things.”

“Design and physicality are still important when it comes to tech - you want people to make a connection between the digital and the physical.”

Gareth's fifth object: micro:bit

“micro:bit began with the aim to inspire every child to create their best digital future. We wanted to get more children to take their first steps with technology and learn the kinds of skills that will be foundational for jobs in the future – even if we don't yet know what those jobs will look like.

Our research showed that physical computing is a great way to get more young girls and underrepresented groups involved. It's about taking the abstract and putting it into their hands so they can use it to solve the problems that they want to. As head of operations for BBC Education, I was co-lead on the project that saw up to 1 million micro:bits distributed to year 7 students across the UK and culminated in the formation of the Micro:bit Educational Foundation.

We've got lots planned for the future of micro:bit. We've just released some professional development resources for educators, as we know that not everyone is confident when it comes to technology – we need to help teachers take their first steps too. We estimate that we've reached just over 25 million children so far, and we're now working towards reaching 100 million.

My journey with micro:bit has taught me that working in partnership allows you to do a lot more than working alone. It challenges your perceptions and ensures you're looking outwards. It's shown me that the will to develop new things and create impact is out there. If you can get a few passionate people together, you can achieve so much.”

“We need to equip young people with the tech skills to solve the problems that are important to them.”

Thanks for reading


We hope you feel inspired by the work Gareth is doing with micro:bit. If you want to find out more about how technology can help to build a more inclusive society, check these out: