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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Why computing and robotics are too important to be left to men

Martin Dowse, Director of ComputerXplorers Sheffield South

Children working on a robotics lesson

Martin Dowse has been the director of ComputerXplorers Sheffield South since November 2021, where he provides specialist computing education for children. Prior to this role, he served as a frontend web developer for almost five years, and then as the head of faculty for computing and media studies at a secondary school in Nottinghamshire for eight years. Earlier in his career, Martin worked as a telecommunications solution delivery analyst in a multinational pharmaceutical company.

Martin Dowse - ComputerXplorers
Martin Dowse

“We design our curriculum to ensure gender balance in the themes. For example, our Appshed app design course is centred around the influential work of Karen Spärck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist renowned for her contributions to natural language processing and information retrieval.”

Making a tangible difference to people’s lives

My career is a testament to the saying, ‘the best-laid plans often go awry’. We often envision our future and set our goals, but reality sometimes takes us in unexpected directions.

In 2008, I graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in computer science and a year of professional experience at a multinational pharmaceutical company. I was enthusiastic, aiming to secure an IT position at the same company, climb the corporate ladder, and eventually ‘make it’ (wherever ‘it’ might be). However, two months after graduation, I realised this path wasn’t what I truly wanted. I yearned to make a tangible difference to people’s lives, even in small ways.

Guiding young people to navigate this digital landscape and make responsible decisions about technology

So, two months on from graduating, I applied for teacher training and soon accepted a position as a trainee secondary school teacher in Nottinghamshire. I spent eight years at this school, and while teaching is incredibly demanding, it is also deeply rewarding. Today’s teenagers grow up in a world saturated with technology. Unlike those of us who remember life before social media and smartphones, for them, this is the norm. A significant part of teaching involves guiding young people to navigate this digital landscape and make responsible decisions about technology.

After eight years of teaching, I made another career shift, this time, into the heart of the tech industry where I worked as a front-end web developer for close to five years, which ultimately led me to my current role at ComputerXplorers. I continue to help others harness the power of technology in positive and impactful ways through operating a franchised business, alongside my wife, Lisa.

Preparing children for a tech-driven future

ComputerXplorers - girl coding
A Minecraft session at a ComputerXplorers holiday camp

At ComputerXplorers, we offer a variety of educational sessions designed to prepare children for an increasingly tech-driven future. Our fun-filled programmes cover coding, robotics, app design, game design, and more. We deliver these sessions, during the school day through curriculum support or workshops, in after-school clubs, holiday camps and via our evening and weekend academy classes. ComputerXplorers has hubs across England and Scotland and even further afield. My daily role involves responsibility for the franchise area in Sheffield, Rotherham, and North East Derbyshire. I deliver our engaging sessions and support the instructors who work alongside me, helping them maintain the highest standards in their delivery.

Resilience, creativity and imagination

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about young people today is their resilience, especially when it comes to problem-solving, combined with their creativity and imagination. The most important thing is to instil in them a love for using technology to create, rather than simply consuming it passively. And create they do! I’ve seen children develop everything from complex pieces of code that track multiple high scores to retro arcade games paying tribute to the life of Elvis Presley. We even had a learner at our academy in Sheffield whose game was recently featured by Mattel on their gaming platform, Bloxels.

Changing perceptions

When I compare the work I do now, mostly with primary school-aged children, to my previous role in secondary education, the biggest difference is the gender balance. In our sessions with younger age groups, we have a similar number of boys and girls attending and achieving equally great things. However, higher up the education system, this balance shifts towards more boys choosing to participate, despite there being no educational reason for this.

In my opinion, it’s all down to perception, and this is something I would like to be involved in changing. Hopefully, with both boys and girls participating in our extra-curricular classes and learning skills that will stand them in good stead for the future, more girls will opt for tech-based education and professions.

Ode to Karen Spärck Jones

Karen Spärck Jones
Karen Spärck Jones

We design our curriculum to ensure gender balance in the themes. For example, our Appshed app design course is centred around the influential work of Karen Spärck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist renowned for her contributions to natural language processing and information retrieval. She is celebrated for her work on inverse document frequency (IDF), a key concept in search engines and information retrieval systems, or as the children in our classes put it: “She invented Google!?”. By integrating her ground-breaking achievements into our curriculum, we aim to inspire all students, regardless of gender, to pursue and excel in technology and computer science.

A well-known advocate for gender equality in the field of computer science, Karen Spärck Jones coined the phrase: “Computing is too important to be left to men.”

Free resources to help children gain experience with tech

I have two daughters under seven years of age, and, as parents, I feel we have a responsibility to allow our children to experience a wide range of extra-curricular activities. My eldest daughter, in particular, enjoys a variety of interests, including singing, dancing, creating impressive structures in Minecraft, and coding small programs using physical robots. The main challenge parents share with me is that it’s difficult to find good resources to introduce their children to tech. Two free resources I would recommend for any parents looking to help children gain experience with tech are Scratch and Vexcode VR.

Both of these are based on block coding, an introductory programming method that uses visual blocks to represent code concepts, making it accessible and easy for beginners to understand and create programs. It eliminates the need to type out code syntax, allowing children to focus on learning logic and problem-solving skills.

Addressing gender imbalance in tech

We find ourselves in a situation with relatively few women in coding and tech-based positions. In the United States during the 1960s, government statistics indicated that more than one in four programmers were women, a figure that is not reflected today. The vast majority of tech teams work collaboratively, requiring diverse thinking and expertise across different specialisms.

To achieve a balanced and innovative tech industry, we need many more women in tech positions. As of 2012, women’s representation on boards at the FTSE 100 level stood at 12.5%, highlighting the need for continued efforts to promote gender balance in technology and leadership roles. This figure is now close to 40%, which represents a significant shift, albeit with further progress still needed.

With the majority of boardroom positions in large companies still held by men, it is crucial that recruitment processes and policies address this imbalance. Additionally, parents encouraging their daughters to engage with technology and schools working hard to overcome obstacles in teaching computer science will hopefully drive continued improvement in gender balance in the tech industry.

Coding and robotics are for everyone

Schools themselves encounter several challenges when delivering computing-based classes. It’s a highly specialised area that requires significant expertise to effectively teach children. Technology entails substantial financial costs and evolves rapidly, needing frequent updates and replacements. However, the schools we collaborate with closely are embracing coding and robotics as an educational tool that blends technology with practical, hands-on learning experiences.

Robotics programmes offer students opportunities to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. By constructing and programming robots, students not only explore mechanics and engineering principles but also gain insights into computer science and software development. These initiatives advance creativity and innovation as students code and test robots to meet specific challenges. Ultimately, by integrating robotics into their curriculum, schools are preparing students for future STEM careers while instilling a lifelong passion for technology and learning.

Empowering young people to make social media choices

Our latest and most exciting development is our partnership with Positive Social, a charity-based organisation who are addressing today’s social media culture through award-winning interactive sessions for students, parents and teachers. Social media is an inescapable part of young people’s lives. Rather than telling students they shouldn’t be on social media, we believe they should be shown how to handle it positively and constructively.

Our Positive Social sessions in primary and secondary schools address social media behaviour and smartphone addiction, challenging young people to consider whether they are making good social media choices. These sessions empower young people, giving them the tools and permission to make different, more mindful decisions about how they use social media.

Here to help

Lisa and Martin Dowse - ComputerXplorers
Lisa and Martin Dowse were named as ComputerXplorers Franchisees of the Year in 2023 by fellow franchisees

Finally, I’d recommend anybody in the Womanthology community who would like to know more or would like to see how they can get involved with the work Lisa and I are doing, to get in touch. Our mission is to provide our tech sessions to as many children as possible from all manner of backgrounds, and if you feel you can help with this in any way, we’d love to hear from you. We have a big summer coming up with multiple holiday tech camps across Sheffield, Doncaster, and Rotherham, and then after that, we are hoping to get away in search of some sun for a few days, before picking up the baton again in September.

Please drop me and Lisa an email at if you’d like to know more.


Karen Spärck Jones image: CC by 2.5, courtesy of the University of Cambridge

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