To help teach children how to build computers, PCs Made Simple is running a series of free Young System Builders workshops.
Dominic Sacco asks the retailer’s managing director Clifford Johnson about the initiative and his plans to create a national network of partners.
What gave you the idea to start these events?
A few Christmases ago, we inherited a load of junk systems from one of our business clients. I was trying to put a few together and sell them second-hand as refurbs.
While I was doing it, my ten-year-old daughter Matilda asked me: “Can I build one?”
So we sat down and built one together. Then my seven- year-old son Dexter wanted to build one. What amazed me is these PCs were junk, but my children stopped using their laptops immediately and started using the PCs they built.
I asked customers if other children would be interested in building systems, and the response was overwhelming. So we created the Young System Builders workshops and used the hashtag #YSB.
We run these events once a month. Each one has room for six children and six parents. We call it ‘LEGO for adults’. They take about three hours and the events are free to attend. We work across a lot of local charities.
Tell us about the parts used in the workshop...
Each pack has an ESD strap, clip, a full set of tools and a box with a case, motherboard, RAM, CPU and heatsink. After building their PC, as long as it works, the child and parent have the chance to buy it for £99. We make it clear you’re not going to play games on it and it has no operating system because we use Ubuntu. Out of that £99, around £59 goes to charity and the rest goes to replacing the parts we just sold.
Could events like this help to close the IT skills gap? Is that one of the reasons why you host them – to grow the talent pool for the future?
It’s exactly that. The one thing that scared us is both of my youngest two do programming at school, but they never learn about the bare metal. We’re going to have two or three generations of people that can program computers like gods, but can’t fix them or build them. There’s a big gap in the engineering industry in the UK.
Do you want other companies to get on board? That’s the plan. I’ve had interest from a few companies to sponsor the event. It’s finding that line between making it a paid-for event or not. I’d love sponsorship.
Would you partner with other retailers to create a national network?
Yes, gladly, because then we could look at more complex courses like tech repair or gaming courses. What’s stopped us going on from here is wondering where the warranty lies. If they purchase the components themselves, they’re under warranty from us. But what about the build itself? What if there’s electrostatic discharge and a RAM issue? That’s the stumbling block.
What is it like to see parents and children enjoying these events?
It’s brilliant, it’s the thing I enjoy more than anything at the moment. We’ve had autistic kids who would never have dreamed of doing anything like this. We fear everyone in the channel will think it’s a brilliant idea and do their own version. I wouldn’t mind, but I’d like to think this is something we pioneered.
Year established: 2006
Number of staff: 4
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