Q&A with Dr Sue Black OBE – TechMums Founder, Tech Evangelist, Social Entrepreneur & Activist
“Educate a man and you educate one person. Educate a woman and you educate a nation.” Technology & education transformed Dr Sue Black‘s life for the better. Having been honoured with an OBE, Dr Black’s achievements fuel an active and radical social entrepreneurism that aims to open the eyes of all in society to the benefits of technology.
Dr Sue Black makes an unforgettable impression with her shock of pink hair and energetic, and inspiring, energetic enthusiasm for the positive potential of technology.
“After 20 years in academia, I decided I wanted to change the world…”
She is no ordinary ‘tech evangelist’. Sue Black is a social entrepreneur, a noted social activist, a top level academic and an adviser to Government. She is convinced that real change comes from social empowerment, and has proven it time and time again.
Perhaps she is best known for her role in helping to save the historic World War II codebreaking station at Bletchley Park from destruction. Her awareness-raising blog about the threat to the facility where Dr Alan Turing and other mathematical geniuses unravelled enemy codes during wartime, and her engaging Twitter campaign, attracted huge numbers of followers.
By the end of 2015, Sue Black published a book, Saving Bletchley Park, and won a string of awards for her efforts, including, announced at the end of that year, the OBE.
Her work is fuelled by her own experiences. By the time she had been awarded the OBE, Dr Sue Black was Honorary Professor of Computer Science at UCL, and previously headed the Department of Information & Software Systems at the University of Westminster, London. But more than 20 years earlier, she’d started working towards a PhD in computing in tough circumstances, aged just 25, as a divorced mum of three young children.
After she’d ‘made it’ as an academic, Dr Black was struck by the male dominance of the UK computing sector of the day. And even while working on her Bletchley Park campaign, the activist in her knew that if things were to change in the tech sector, she would have to play an active role.
And so in 2013 began a fresh chapter in her life, at the age of 49. After she’d established the first online network for women in tech, BCS Women (which is still going strong), she founded The goto Foundation, initially focused on engaging young children with technology, and which has evolved into Savvify, targeting distinct demographic groups. In the same year, inspired by her observations that dads tended to play a more active role than mothers with kids in technology, she set up her next social enterprise, TechMums. This aims to teach computer code and basic IT skills to mothers. By 2020, she wants to have put one million mothers through TechMums programs, all over the UK. That’s an ambitious target, but knowing Dr Sue Black’s track record, energy, drive and commitment, few would be foolish enough to bet against her.
11 Questions for Dr Sue Black
Dr Sue Black kindly cleared some time in her schedule to speak to AGENT about her campaigns and social enterprises, as well as her inspirations and the key business and life lessons she has learned along the way.
1. Describe your business goals and tell us how you first got into business?
After 20 years in academia, I decided I wanted to change the world, to get everyone to understand how great technology is. Lots of people I met in the media were negative about tech “taking our jobs”, or “big government IT systems being a waste of money”, etc. I saw, and still see, tech as something that gives us amazing tools to change the world for the better, in so many ways.
I set up an organisation called The goto Foundation first. I wanted to teach everyone about technology and how it could change individuals, organisations and nations for the better, offering so many opportunities. I didn’t know what I was doing. I ran tech workshops with 7-year-old kids, getting organisations like AppsforGood into primary schools for the first time.
I realised that, even though the results from the workshops were great, I really wanted to make a bigger impact. I decided to set up TechMums, realising that if we can get mums on board as empowered tech evangelists, we get not only the mums involved, but the whole family. At the same time, it creates lot of mum tech role models, helping mums into work, education and starting up their own businesses.
I believe in the truth of the saying, “Educate a man and you educate one person. Educate a woman and you educate a nation.” My goal is to have one-million #techmums through our programme by 2020, and that’s the target we are focusing on most intently at the moment.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
There are so many amazing women changing the world through their businesses, including Cindy Gallop, Alicia Navarro, Alex Depledge and Jules Coleman, Debbie Wosskow, Erika Brodnock, Wendy Tan White, Gina Bianchini, Heather Russell, Jess de Wahls, Emma Mulqueeny, Francine Hardaway, Roberta Lucca, Lisa Goodchild, Vanessa Vallely, Jude Ower, and so many, many more…
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
Our business model. Hopefully we have it sorted now…
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
Yes it is, but it is really hard. Luckily my husband is a bit of a workaholic too. 😉
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
Laugh at something funny my husband has said. I love that he has such a great sense of humour. 😃
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
Our wedding in New York last September.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Kindle. I read a lot.
9. What is the last thing you googled?
“Bill of rights 1989 2 pound coin”. The guy at the carwash showed me a ￡2 coin he had been given, asking if I thought it was real. I thought 1989 was too early for a ￡2 coin so I Googled it. Turns out it was a commemorative coin and actually worth quite a bit more than ￡2. We were both pleasantly surprised!
10. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My iPhone. What would I do without something that enables me to read, Tweet, contact everyone, get the shopping, keep in touch with family and friends…
11. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Find the right people to work with first before you try to make anything happen.