Maggie Philbin

CEO, TeenTech

Maggie Philbin

My career as a technology reporter very nearly didn’t happen. In a way that now makes my blood run cold, when a letter arrived asking me to join the Tomorrow’s World team, I hesitated. I’d spent four years working on Swap Shop, the BBC’s Saturday morning show and I wasn’t sure my informal style was what the producers really wanted. So unbelievably, I asked for a couple of weeks to think about it.

Thankfully I made what turned out to be one of the very best decisions of my life. It felt like coming home. I joined a programme which was at the top of it’s game, giving me the opportunity to tell significant stories about science and technology from all over the world. I held the very first digital camera, shared the first experience of virtual reality and had the heart stopping experience of trying to demonstrate the first voice recognition phone - which of course didn’t recognize anything. It was only when I joined the show that I had any sense of just how big the world of technology was, how many different opportunities it held and how very much I enjoyed being part of it.

I’d watched Tomorrow’s World when I was a kid but although I’d been transfixed by the array of groundbreaking tech from the first home computer to the first hovercraft, I never believed I could ever belong in this world or be anything other than a fascinated outsider. Looking back I can understand why I felt that way. Through the sixties and seventies, the programme was not only presented by men but produced, directed and researched by men. If you watch some of those early programmes on the BBC Archive, you’ll see how the world of 60s and 70s tech was very male.

By the time I joined in 1982, it was a different story. Judith Hann had made her mark and so had a very brilliant and talented group of women researchers, directors and producers who made sure there were no careless references to engineers or computer scientists as “he”. I loved every minute of my eight years on the show:  the teamwork, the challenge of explaining really complicated stories in three minutes, the attention to detail and sometimes the sheer sense of relief when we’d managed to get to the end of the live programme without a disaster. We all cared deeply about getting it right.

I’m now asking people who are kind enough to say that Tomorrow’s World inspired them to work in tech to pay it forward as I still think that from the outside, most jobs in technology are completely invisible. It’s easy to see how young people and their parents have the impression it’s all about bashing away on a keyboard, surrounded by people cracking jokes no-one understands. They don’t see the team building, risk-taking, creativity and the opportunities. I co-founded TeenTech five years ago as I was so frustrated that young people didn’t have enough opportunities to see beyond the technology to the people behind it and the understanding they could be the ones shaping, developing and building the world and our future.

And those young people included my own daughter, now working with a leading software company who says that nothing she experienced at school gave her any inkling she would love working in the industry.

It’s really Rose rather than me who should be writing this. I’m so proud of her. In an industry where women are very much in the minority she says it’s so important to ask for what you want. In the past she’s stood up to bosses who told her she was ‘too young’ to be given the commission she’d earned on a large deal. They backed down.

So I’ll take her advice and ask for what I want.  Make sure we have real diversity in IT. Pay it forward ;-)

About Maggie

Most people know Maggie from her work on the much loved Tomorrow’s World but she has stayed on the pulse of science and technology ever since.

She’s now presenting Bang Goes The Theory and in the last five years she’s reported for BBC Breakfast, Inside Out and BBC Webwise, as well as heading up the BBC’s Digital Switchover and writing for The Guardian.

In 2008 she created TeenTech, an interactive science and engineering event for teenagers which was awarded Best Engineering Event by the British Science Association in 2010. TeenTech have collaborated with companies, universities and educational organisations to run 12 events across the UK in 2013 and supported by TeenTech patron HRH Duke Of York have launched a supporting Award Scheme to encourage young people to develop their innovative ideas in Science and Technology.

At the WISE Awards in 2012 she won the Communication and Outreach category of Women of Outstanding Achievement for her work with TeenTech . In the same year she received an Honorary Doctor of Technology degree from De Montfort University for "bringing a greater understanding of science and technology to the public”. In 2013 she was given the Promotion of Design Award by the Institution of Engineering Designers for her work as a broadcaster and with TeenTech. In 2014 they invited her to become President, an office she will take up in July.

 

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