Talking teaching, women in tech and laser tag with Tech Camp founder, Tom Ward

On a mission to ‘inspire tomorrow’s inventors’, Tom Ward steered away from the traditional life of a teacher to found Tech Camp, the holiday camp that teaches engineering, coding, 3-D design and IT to young boys and girls.

Founded in 2008, Tech Camp is the UK’s original and longest-running provider of explorative camps with two hubs for residential and non-residential experiences. We caught up with the founder to talk origins, the future and women in tech. Check out our conversation below.

1. Can you give us a brief overview of your career from university to now?

Living in Australia I worked for a couple of years as an engineer before starting up a business writing software for the medical community. I enjoyed this but eventually decided to go into teaching and completed a DipEd (equivalent of a PGCE). I thought with a change of career it would be fun to try teaching in another country – I headed over here to take up apposition as Head of Science at Elstree School, Berkshire.

I stayed there for almost 10 years and in the last few years decided to setup Tech Camp – initially as a fun thing to do in the long summer holidays. About 5 years ago I went full time with the business and haven’t looked back since.

2. In you experience, do you prefer tutoring at Tech Camp to the more rigid classroom teaching structure?

I definitely prefer the Tech Camp environment to standard classroom teaching – in a normal classroom there are so many more constraints; meeting targets, getting students through exams, and having to go with what someone else thinks is important to teach. Being able to teach purely through practical projects like building rockets and robots is terrific and a luxury you don’t get in a school classroom.

Tech Camp

Image credit: Tech Camp

3. What’s the most challenging part of your job and, inversely, what’s the most rewarding?

Running any sort of Tech Camp is hard, but when we concentrate on building sophisticated practical projects it’s even harder. Some of our projects like robotic arms and laser tag units have hundreds of small components so we need to make sure we’ve got all the right parts to the right location and we have enough spares to cater with any breakages.

The most rewarding part is definitely seeing the campers enjoy learning in a way they might not at school and see them meeting other campers that are interested in the same things they are. This sometimes comes as a revelation for those with niche interests like this that there are plenty of other young people in the world like them!

4. Have their been any young people or inventions you’ve come across in the last eight years that you’ve thought “Wow, this is going to change the world in a big way!”?

I guess we tend to work with people who are quite young and still discovering what technology can do so I suspect that some of the best ideas will come out just a few years later than when we see them. Some campers from our earliest camps have stayed in touch and are now studying tech-related subjects at university.

One example is Harry Thorpe who’s built a full sized CNC machine (a robot that can carve out objects from materials like wood and aluminium). Although there’s plenty of other people around the world who have tackled projects like this, they’re not often doing it when they’re aged 16 or 17 and it’s early experiences like these that may well lead to the next amazing idea in a related field.

Image credit: Tech Camp

Image credit: Tech Camp

5. How valuable do you think coding is for the future of employment?

I think it’s vital but I may be a bit biased – I’m continually surrounded by like-minded young geeks! Fortunately there are plenty of others in wider society who agree though and the UK government is probably amongst the more forward-thinking in this regard, having introduced coding in schools at an early age just a year or so ago across the UK.

6. What changes would you like to see in the tech industry in the next decade?

More women! We, like many other Tech Camps around the world struggle with the low number of girls who enrol for our courses. To some extent it may be natural to have more boys than girls when you’re running a camp building rockets and robots but there’s also still a cultural bias towards thinking ‘Tech’ is boy’s business. There are some amazing young women in engineering and technology now and we hope the trend continues to grow.

To learn more about the amazing work Tom and his team are doing at Tech Camp, swing by their website.