In the first in our interview series, Naomi Nash, Entrepreneur Engagement Manager at Tech Nation (and fellow Community Leader ‘Diversity’) interviews Devon Geary, our Tech for Good Community Leader at Birmingham Tech.
Devon launched the Tech for Good stream of Birmingham Tech Week in 2019 with an event called This Is Our Brum. Devon’s passion for Birmingham and the West Midlands region is infectious, and her focus is on integrating inclusive and socially responsible leadership practices across the Birmingham Tech community by encouraging cross-sector collaborative partnerships that drive social good.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’ve come into Tech via a somewhat unconventional path. I earned an MA (with Distinction) in Shakespeare and Creativity from the University of Birmingham in 2018. (This is usually the moment I say to people, “It’s okay. You can go ahead and laugh.”)
While I was studying, I kept struggling with this innate desire to do something impactful. Studying Shakespeare was great, and I did really enjoy learning the new critical and theoretical frameworks throughout the year, but I wanted to take that a step farther and actually make an impact on society. As I carved out space to do that within Shakespeare Studies, I started exploring something Ewan Fernie calls “civic Shakespeare,” which is based on George Dawson’s idea of the “civic Gospel.” Civic Shakespeare is all about taking Shakespeare out of the classrooms and theatres and bringing him to the streets to see what impact (if any) he can have on society. Engaging with these ideas required an inherently interdisciplinary way of thinking, which, in turn, has informed my thinking around civic Tech, Tech for Good, and the importance of cross-sector collaborations.
When I learned about Birmingham Tech Week and decided to create and convene This Is Our Brum as Birmingham Tech Week’s first Tech for Good event, I started seeing how all of the pieces fit together. It sounds really corny, but it was like all of my seemingly disconnected experience in trauma work, applied theatre, disability services, advocacy, and data came into perfect harmony in the context of this thing called “Tech for Good.”
Tech is such a powerful tool. Integrating a deep and empathetic understanding of humanity, the human experience, and the emotional experience of being human into Tech allows us to do really positive things with it. I see this as the marriage of Tech and the Humanities. That ability to engage the technical and human sides simultaneously is at the heart of the best Tech for Good projects and initiatives I’ve come across so far, and it’s what excites me about growing this community.
How did you get involved with Birmingham Tech Week and Birmingham Tech?
I commented on Yiannis’s original post about Birmingham Tech Week 2019 and said that it would be great to have a cross-sector/interdisciplinary conversation about inclusive and socially responsible development as part of Birmingham Tech Week. We spoke on the phone about a week later, and I shared my vision for the event. Yiannis said it aligned perfectly with Birmingham Tech Week’s mission, vision, and goals. He then told me I was the Tech for Good Lead and that the team would support me as I planned and delivered this event. It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest! I was living in the States and working full-time in Washington, DC with a gnarly commute. So I planned the event remotely, mostly on the train to and from work. It was an adventure of epic proportions!
Can you tell us a bit about This Is Our Brum?
This Is Our Brum, the start of the Tech for Good Community, brought together 38 professionals from Birmingham’s private, public, and charity sectors. We had a day-long conversation about inclusive and socially responsible development, and we looked at the impact that Commonwealth Games, HS2, and the burgeoning Tech Boom are likely to have on some of the city’s more vulnerable populations. 60% of the people who attended This Is Our Brum are still regularly and actively engaged with Birmingham Tech, which is something I’m very excited about, and I’m really looking forward to partnering with the other Birmingham Tech Community Leads to build out what we offer the local community.
We’ll be running an event called Brum Scrum this summer to discuss how we can use Tech to lessen the emotional impact of lockdown and the digital transformation, and we’re planning a Social Hack for October as part of Birmingham Tech Week. Watch this space for more details on each of these events!
What’s your vision for the Tech for Good Community with Birmingham Tech?
My vision is that our Tech for Good Community will be a space for dynamic cross-sector collaborations that use Tech to make a positive impact on our city and region. I want us to have a positive impact on the way Tech is created and consumed. And I want to equip Birmingham’s Tech community to integrate inclusive and socially responsible design and development processes into their business models so that we can contribute to a sustainable Tech ecosystem. I also have a personal commitment to upskilling the Tech community in trauma aware design, development, and leadership practices because I believe this is what will help differentiate the UK’s Tech from the rest of the world’s post-COVID. I see the Tech for Good Community—and This Is Our Brum—as a place to develop and launch these initiatives for the benefit of the region and community.
What’s one thing you’d like people to take away from this conversation?
Technology isn’t just about coding, programming, and building products. Technology is about people and relationships, and it is only as strong as the relationships it enhances. Our Tech for Good Community—and the broader Birmingham Tech Community—gives us the space to develop strong relationships with people from different backgrounds so that we can build a Tech ecosystem that benefits everyone across the region.
With that in mind, the other thing I’d like you to remember is that you don’t have to be a “Tech” person to be a Tech person. I’m sure Dan and Naomi will touch on that more when they share about the Digital Skills and Diversity and Inclusion Communities they’re building. But it’s a really important thing to remember from a Tech for Good perspective as well. A lot of the time, the most creative solutions in Tech come from people who aren’t “Tech” people. So my message to you is that Birmingham Tech is for you, whether or not you consider yourself a “Tech” person. We are here to support you in your unique journey. And as we do that, we will continue to Collaborate with our amazing partners to Inspire the next generation of Tech leaders and Celebrate Birmingham’s brilliant Tech community.
Any final thoughts?
At Birmingham Tech, collaboration is in our DNA. Our goal is to amplify the amazing work that’s already being done across the community and region and to encourage people to invest in Birmingham’s vibrant and growing Tech scene. Because of this, Chris, Dan, Naomi, and I will be working closely to integrate the ScaleUps, Digital Skills, Diversity and Inclusion, and Tech for Good Communities as much as we can. And we want people to be as involved as they want to be.
Everyone is welcome here. The Birmingham Tech Community is for Birmingham. We exist to support, encourage, celebrate, and inspire you. We are working hard to create a Tech community that reflects Birmingham’s beautifully diverse population, and we would love for you to join us on this journey. We’ve already got some great Tech for Good projects in the pipeline, and we would love to have you onboard!