#TeensInAI: Learning about AI by doing AI (Christy Forshaw, 14)

Acorn Aspirations
5 min readApr 16, 2018

Two weeks ago I was looking for work experience and NextTechGirls connected me with Elena Sinel, the founder of Acorn Aspirations. Elena was planning to run an Alexa Bootcamp and offered me a chance to participate and learn to build a skill for Alexa.

This is my account of my work experience: learning to work for myself.

Truly, this was the best work experience I have ever had.

As someone who previously had very little experience of coding or exposure to the tech industry, this experience has really opened up my eyes on what the tech industry had to offer. I found project-based learning fascinating and working as part of team I have never ever met before was something new, but very exciting.

The first day started off at Wayra Telefonica with a Design Thinking workshop by Ketna Hirji, formerly a design thinker at Google. We split into groups to work on the challenge: How could you improve the school curriculum for the modern age? She took us through various steps in the design thinking process ending with us modelling our idea out of sweets. It was really useful to be able to break your idea down into modules as well as realise the massive amount of thought that goes into just designing tech startup ideas.

Lena Chauhan also talked to us about her journey and how she is now working on using voice and conversational AI to help people with Dementia who struggle to communicate or call for help. The fact that she was able to go into tech despite having very little previous experience shows what a flexible industry it is and that there is space for everyone.

After lunch we were introduced to the Alexa skills and started our JavaScript coding workshop with Arun Pattni. Arun is only fourteen years old, yet has already published Alexa skills and is very competent with coding. It was inspiring to see that if someone our age can master code we can too. We started learning various coding techniques such as else and if and variables to help teach us what we would need to make our Alexa skill.

Lastly, Jonnie Penn, who created a television show called The Buried Life came to the workshop. He talked to us about his research on AI and also how we can all achieve what we want to do just like he was able to complete his bucket list.

We discussed what problems each one of us was passionate about solving and whether AI could provide solutions to them. He even told us a story about playing basketball with Barack Obama, which was on his bucket list! That was the end to a very engaging first day.

On Day two we were based at Rocketspace which was a very cool office full of startups, so we felt up close to the tech action. In the morning we had another inspiring speech from Lua Cooper about her career and how we should go about finding a job we enjoy.

From being an intern for David Cameron to starting her own tech company and working for Groupon, she shared insights on how we should be flexible and willing to search for the job we wanted as well as not rule out any career option.

We then resumed our Alexa skill training learning about API’s and the exciting amazon competition we would be designing a skill for which included a grand prize of $250000.

Having spent the rest of the day making sure we knew how to use JavaScript to code a skill we came back to Rocketspace on Wednesday ready to get into teams and start brainstorming our ideas for our skill. It was hard as we had to think about monetising the skill and our target market however all the teams came up with creative ideas and then got to work executing them. We learnt how to use Trello to help our project manager to ensure everything got completed and as well as coding the skill we also had to prepare a pitch for it.

We learnt how to create dialogue flows, user personas and do a questionnaire to find out if our skill was needed.

The next day we went back to Wayra excited and ready to continue our projects. We finished coding our skills and began testing them as well as making our presentations including user stories identifying our target market and explaining our next steps. Alejandro Saucedo also talked to us about his career as a developer in the tech industry and also helped us to improve our code so it was the best it could be.

Finally, day 5 was here and we were all busy preparing for our presentation at Wayra in front of industry experts and parents. It was incredible to be able to see our skills working and though we were all a little nervous we were also excited. We all presented with ideas ranging from travel directions, flashcards for studying and our group’s which was an Alexa skill for Etsy. Overall the flashcards group won with their amazing pitch and will now go to present their skill at CogX conference for AI, but we all felt very proud of how hard we had worked and also how much we had learnt in only 5 days.

I had a great time on this course and would really recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more coding that you can apply to the real world as well as see how the tech industry works by hearing from mentors that are already part of it.

Thank you to Acorn Aspirations and Elena for organising such an inspiring week!

Originally published at Acorn Aspirations.



Acorn Aspirations

Powering the Next Generation of Thought Leaders, Innovators and Technologists in #AI @teensinai #TeensInAI #GirlsinAI #MCStartup2016 Founder @elenasinel