Inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers and tech experts at the Cheltenham Science Festival 2022

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This year the Cheltenham Science Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary of bringing together the world’s greatest scientists, futurologists and thought leaders to help make sense of the world around us. The Sopra Steria team made their debut at the event, as an opportunity to engage with the next generation of scientists and engineers, showcasing how experimenting with tech can lead into careers within the exciting worlds of cyber, digital and tech.

During the six-day extravaganza, the Sopra Steria team, with the help of the ArgoDevops, welcomed over 20,000 students and their families, to explore the wonderful world of science by hosting a variety of activities in the Retro Arcade. One of the main aims was for the Sopra Steria team to reach out to as many young people as possible, regardless of their areas of interest, ability, gender or background, with a level of inclusion that might just spark a young mind into action and search out a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEMs).

With the help of ArgoDevops designers, builders and volunteers, the Sopra Steria team which included Sally Newport, Dan Humphrey, Rich Websper and Andy Laurence who created and hosted the ‘Use Your Marbles’ game where marbles were released when either a memory, coding or hacking game was completed. But this was no simple marble run. Standing almost 5 metres tall, Sopra Steria had the centrepiece in the Retro Arcade tent, attracting over 20,000 visitors.  In fact, the stand was such a big hit, on the first day the team had to adapt the concept of the game, as some of the students were younger than expected, and the vast number of people who were visiting at any one time was much higher than expected. The original concept was for everyone nearby working collaboratively towards a single goal, but as everyone was of mixed age and ability this collaboration in this space saw us adapt the offering to allow single people and small groups to win, which proved very popular.

Setting up CyNam

Such events are months in the planning with real dedication needed from the team, not only with the planning but also supervising and managing the stall for several consecutive days. Sally Newport commented “Having the whole team on the stand on day one really helped with seeing if our plans were working. We all worked really hard in developing the ideas, what would appeal to the audience, how we could engage with students and being a self-organising team, we were able to make changes and adapt at short notice when things didn’t work as we initially expected. The way the stand functioned changed almost continually for the first day or two as we found things that didn’t work as expected, but the team persevered to make it work with hard work and dedication”. The work ethic and people centric approach is core to the Sopra Steria culture, whether working with the community, for clients or in collaboration with employees.

The festival provided an unexpected opportunity for the Sopra Steria team to use not only their day-to-day skills needed for their jobs, but also to get involved with other hands-on tasks.  Andy Laurence (Senior Solutions Architect) commented “I really enjoyed trying a project that’s completely different to my day job.  I usually design IT systems, so to build a physical stand with several systems working together to meet a concept was great fun.  There was hardware and software built into the project and being hands-on with that was a great change.” Andy has also been mentoring an apprentice for two and a half years, so for Andy to see how he performed in unfamiliar scenarios, problem solving, working with the community was a real highlight; “Dan [Humphrey] really excelled and took to the tasks in hand with great spirit, I feel really proud of how he and the team stepped up, and think it was a great learning experience of all of us, in fact, I’d say it was inspirational!”

On the closing of the festival Sally Newport commented “The Cheltenham Science Festival is a great place to start if you are curious about the different areas of future employment in science, technology or engineering, or even if you have no idea what career path you wish to follow.  In fact I recall speaking to one young lady who explained they had been to the festival pre-Covid - at a time when she had no idea as to what career to pursue. The festival sparked her imagination to such an extent that she’s now at the beginning of a 4-year apprenticeship in an industry she’d never have considered before. Inspiring the next generation of computer scientists, coders and problem solvers turns out to be both fun and incredibly rewarding. We’ll be back in 2023!”

Watch this short video for some of the highlights of The Cheltenham Science Festival.

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Words and pictures are not enough to describe today, I have been privileged to witness something very special indeed.