‘Keep an open mind’ – EU Digital Girl of the Year Niamh Scanlon (13) tells tech industry

17 Jun 2016

Cheryl Miller, Digital Leadership Institute; Linda Boff, GE; Paddy Cosgrave, Web Summit; Niamh Scanlon; Mary Moloney, CoderDojo, at the Mind and Machines Conference in Paris, France

Though Claire O’Connell has been profiling remarkable women in tech for Siliconrepublic.com for the past three years, never before has she had such intimate knowledge of her subject: her daughter, Niamh Scanlon, EU Digital Girl of the Year 2015.

This week, 13-year-old Niamh Scanlon, who will speak at Inspirefest later this month, stressed the need for diversity in tech at a major GE conference in Paris.

The world of tech needs more gender and age diversity, and CEOs should keep an open mind when young people come up with ideas. Those were the messages that Scanlon delivered during an onstage interview at General Electric’s Minds and Machines Europe conference in Paris.

Niamh on stage with Cheryl Miller at the Mind and Machines Conference

Scanlon on stage with Cheryl Miller at the Mind and Machines Conference

Future Human

13-year old Scanlon was in conversation with Cheryl Miller from the Digital Leadership Institute, which last December named both Scanlon and Yasmin Bey from England as EU Digital Girls of the Year.

During the chat with Miller, Scanlon got to the point with the (largely male and suited) audience when she noted that many of the speakers at the Minds and Machines Europe conference were men wearing suits. “I don’t think people should think of the tech sector as… lots of men in suits,” she said, adding that there should be more women and young people in the technology sector.

Scanlon started learning to code at CoderDojo in Dublin City University when she was nine. With support from the ESB, she developed an app called ReCharge My eCar to show the drivers of electric cars where public charge points are and, crucially, whether they are in use or not. The prototype won awards at Coolest Projects and Eir Junior Spiders.

“I have never lived in a world without internet,” Scanlon commented to delegates, who were in Paris to discuss how the industrial internet can help companies to improve productivity.

Smart changes, big gains

The premise of the industrial internet (as opposed to the consumer internet) is to bring together connected machines, big data, analytics and modelling at scale, with a view to improving performance.

GE has developed tools – the Predix operating system and the Digital Twin simulation system – to drive the industrial Internet and the company this week also inaugurated its ‘Digital Foundry’ in Paris.

“If you are an industrial company you should be all about content,” said GE chair and CEO Jeff Immelt, who spoke about how getting assets connected and getting insights from them can drive operations and productivity. “The beauty of the industrial world is that very small changes drive huge paybacks for our customers.”

Irish in France

While the Irish fans in France were out changing tyres and cleaning up after themselves, Ireland was also well represented on stage at Minds and Machines in Paris. As well as Scanlon, Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave and CoderDojo CEO Mary Moloney spoke onstage, with Moloney urging companies to support the next generation through the CoderDojo community.

Scanlon also urged them to listen to and support young innovators. “Keep an open mind all the time – if you run a business and someone comes into you with an idea, even if they are nine years old… it can be really good, don’t turn people away because they are too young,” she said. “See if you can work with CoderDojos near you and if there isn’t one then set it up.”

Coolest Projects is on tomorrow (18 June) at the RDS in Dublin. To register for free tickets go to coolestprojects.org

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book your tickets now to join us from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication