Today I would like to share a guest post with you, by my friend Colin, who is one of those I.T. people.
Last Tuesday was Safer Internet Day and I asked for a post explaining the importance of the projects that Colin is involved in – hopefully stirring up some interest in terms of staying safe online.
My name is Colin.
You may notice that I am not Maz. You may further notice that I am, in fact, Colin. You have likely gathered this from up there when I stated it.
A brief introduction, then. I’m a Software Engineer1 for a cyber security company, and I volunteer for a social enterprise programme2 for which young professionals go to schools and teach online safety. I’m not going to give the names of either of those things, because then I’d probably have to check with them whether it’s okay to do a thing on someone’s blog, and that sounds like a pain. So I’m going to speak in generics, and specify that everything I have written here is entirely my words with no influence from anyone else. So there. [I have added headings, links and images for your reading pleasure! - M]
Is it secret? Is it safe?
You may not have realised it – it’s admittedly not one of the most famous special occasions – but on February 5th, it was Safer Internet Day. I, therefore, was at a school in London teaching online safety as part of that voluntary shindig, a topic that is growing more vital by the day. If you frequent the technology news on the BBC website, you will have seen this crop up again and again. Heck, you probably see it in the flesh. People creating Facebook groups called “I lost my phone, please post all your numbers here” that are publicly available, or birthday events that everyone can see. And that’s people our age [which is twenty-somethings, by the way - M].
I keep my Facebook pretty locked down (I hope), because it turned up during my university days and I don’t really want people to see photos of me irresponsibly drunk, wearing a ridiculous hat and/or wig, giving my best impression of The Salmon Dance3. It wasn’t fun going through trying to cover up all traces of university foolishness – but it could be so much worse. What if Facebook had my entire childhood on it? Photos of me with yoghurt all over my face? Calling people a poopy-pants? Making unfounded claims about people’s mothers4?
The next generation are allowed to join Facebook at the age of thirteen5. So it’s going to be hard for them to escape who they used to be – the internet will remember with alarming accuracy [hey, look, Geocities! - M], regardless of them moving schools, going to University, getting a job, whatever. And here’s the scariest part: that’s the most trivial of the implications. There are very very nasty people out there and they prey on our those most vulnerable citizens. Do you suppose 13 year olds think about all this?
I don’t think they do. I’d like to make a difference.
Let me be completely honest with you. From a selfish perspective, I’ve gained a lot from being part of this initiative. It made me stand out at work, helped me develop my soft skills, and meant I got to do some pretty awesome stuff like speak at the House of Commons6 and do an online safety workshop with a London 2012 Olympian. My company allows me time out of work to do it, so I don’t lose out in terms of holiday allowance or money.
That’s sure as hell not why I do it, though.7
Can a one-hour workshop make a real difference to lives? Who can say for sure: hopefully at least it plants the seed that starts them thinking about what they do online. Certainly the topic keeps cropping up in the news, and I can tell you I’ve never asked someone if they’d like me to do one of my workshops and heard back “no thanks”. More importantly, the kids certainly never look bored. So there’s definitely an appetite for what I’m doing: hopefully that implies it’s useful. My gut feeling is that this matters.
I’m not sure exactly what Maz wanted me to write about beyond “your voluntary school stuff”, but hopefully this is the sort of thing she was after. I haven’t named any organisations (although you will be able to find those names out with the tiniest amount of digging I’m sure), so this isn’t me doing a sales pitch and trying to get more people involved. In fact, I think the initiative is growing pretty well without my intervention. And I also know that not everybody has a passion for this stuff. So what am I doing blabbering at you?
Hopefully, inspiring you a little. It’s tough to make a difference: sometimes it feels like that’s something you can only really do when you’re rich and powerful. But there are certainly ways you can try to make a difference, and hopefully, build up a reputation for yourself at the same time – maybe you can make an even bigger difference later?
At the heart of all this, I’m just determined to be one of the ones who gives back more than he takes. I think that’s the attitude everyone should have. I hope you do too.
Comments? I’m @colinmpowers on Twitter. If you look me up, pretend my profile does not blatantly list the names of the organisations I decided not to name earlier. Cheers.
 That means “Code Monkey”.
 That means “thing”.
 I made that example up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it actually happened and I’ve just forgotten about it.
 This one may still be valid today.
 Which means they sign up at about age 10.
 Only one of the small rooms in it though, not where PMQs happens or anything.
 Well. Maybe a little.
Thank you for reading Colin’s post and do leave a comment below/get in touch with him if you’d like to learn more. Stay safe on the interwebnets, all.