Meet Malta’s Tech Guru: Klaus Conrad, Educator & Managing Director

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Tell us a bit about yourself

Like many other geeks, my fascination with technology has been a lifelong affair. As a young boy my first computer was a Commodore VIC20 and computers in those years were still a novelty. Using them required learning about how they work and I still remember regularly opening the VIC20 up to change a fuse or two, something that would be unimaginable today with iPads and modern computing devices. The experience of opening electronics up, even from a young age, messing around with coding, gaining an understanding of how to get things done with technology has really been a formative aspect of my life growing up. I quickly became ‘that guy’ in my family who would be called upon to fix any, and all, tech problems – something I am sure many other geeks can relate to.

Your bachelor’s degree is in Music and Philosophy. What motivated you to go from music and philosophy to IT?

My life has for a very long time revolved around two main things – technology and music. When I was growing up I would either be playing the violin or spending time on a computer. When I had to decide what to do at University I chose music and philosophy because as anyone who knows me will attest, I’ll happily debate about anything, so philosophy seemed a perfect fit.

I was already doing a some work with computers at the time, making simple web pages and so on, so I felt like I could pursue both passions concurrently. After graduating I moved into teaching, and in my second year of teaching had one of those life changing moments when a new computer lab was being installed in a school. I remember the installers were having issues with the network, and since I had just passed the same network at home I knew what the likely issue was, so I helped them resolve it. The next day, I got a call to join the Center for IT in Education, CITEDUC, which had just been established to see how to implement computers in the education system.

After a few years there I moved into the private sector, focusing first on systems, then on software, followed by architecture. I found my calling as a problem fixer, someone who gets called in to make things work, and my specific area of expertise was in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics solutions. I was very fortunate to work with some amazing people and to work with some of the largest companies in the world. After a few years and three kids later I decided that I wanted to go back to my first love – helping people understand technology, which is where the idea of EasyPeasyCoding was born.

What is EasyPeasyCoding?

EasyPeasyCoding is a set of training courses specifically designed for children, parents and teachers to learn about technology, coding, robotics and the wider STEAM concepts in a fun, engaging way. It is a very hands-on approach founded on the belief that the only way to learn something well is to engage with it often. Coding is not only about ‘doing the code’ – it is more about thinking and problem solving, and I felt that many existing programs neglected the computational thinking and problem-solving aspect of coding. In some cases, they totally neglected the applied aspect of using those skills in a STEAM setting.

Why did you start EasyPeasyCoding?

When I came to teach my own children about technology and coding I wanted to make sure that it would be fun first, not only for the kids but also for the parents who often struggle to connect with the technology their kids are excited about. Education, especially with young children, is so much more meaningful if parents are involved. I also wanted to create materials that would work in a classroom even if the teacher had minimal training. In this way teachers could deliver exciting and engaging lessons and improve their own skills while doing so. I also felt the importance of creating an educational method at minimal cost using open source systems so that education is easily accessible and available to all without breaking the bank.

What is in the pipeline for EasyPeasyCoding?

EasyPeasyCoding has been extremely well received. Last year we had workshops in several countries using our approach and the feedback was phenomenal. We are now looking into formalizing some of the initial material into more coherent plans. Then formally launching an international franchise empowering individual teachers to become community technology champions.  Locally we have been very excited about various initiatives including those with companies like GO who have taken the lead in promoting coding as an essential skill. They offer free coding workshops to kids of their employees. EasyPeasyCoding has also been a lead supporter of MaltaPi. The first RaspberryJam in Malta which is an event that is growing exponentially every time it is organized.

You are also running your own business – Headstart Technology. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Headstart Technology is the parent company of EasyPeasyCoding and it also provides consulting and training services to schools. We have just been appointed a Microsoft Education Global Training Partner and are doing some exciting work with local educators and Microsoft. Headstart also works with hardware partners from around the world to bring the most innovative education technology to schools. Always looking for that perfect balance between affordability, flexibility and ease of use. We help to ensure that edtech in the classroom is actually transforming education and not just an expensive fad.

In what way does your background in teaching and experience in cloud operations facilitate in the work you do for Headstart Technology?

The work I do with Headstart is a direct result of the experience I have gained in my previous roles. I have acquired a deep knowledge of technology. The way in which it is changing the way we live and work. This knowledge allows me to understand gaps in the education system. Addressing those gaps in the best way possible requires an extensive knowledge of both technology and teaching. I am lucky to be able to combine the two. My work in both software and hardware platforms allows me to engage with hardware partners on a very technical level. Allowing me to influence and contribute to the development of products.

How can parents locally help children learn more about the joys of coding?

There are many ways – the easiest and best way of course is to attend one of our courses! Failing that, there are some great resources now online, such as at code.org, and if you are a little bit tech oriented you can look into raspberrypi.org or microbit.org.

What’s your lifelong ambition?

To keep learning. There are so many amazing things to learn.

What is your most embarrassing tech story?

Accidentally turning off an entire group of servers on AWS. I thought I had logged onto a demo environment and not the live environment. Whoops!

What is the gadget you can’t live without and why?

Like most people today I do most of my day-to-day work on my smartphone. I have become less and less brand dependant over the years as all phones ultimately do the same things. But I like experimenting with cheaper Chinese phones just because I find it impressive how sophisticated they have become. If I had to pick my favourite all time gadget it would be my ancient Xircom REX 5000 PDA. It is near indestructible. Has kept my information safely stored for over 15 years. And it still works as well now as the first day I got it. As for educational gadgets, don’t even get me started!

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