Digital Backpackers

Imagine: Our participants have passed through boot camp and developed some digital skills. They have learned how to do a standup meeting and use some Agile techniques. They’ve taken a story point and turned it into code. They’ve pitched a business idea or delivered a presentation on a technical tool they use. In short they’ve grown to be a junior functioning member of the digital tech community.

So now what?

One option is to send them into the world as a digital backpacker.

To do that effectively we’re going to need a global network and that network is going to want to send their digital backpackers to us too.

So what will these digital backpackers do? Some of them will have commercial grade digital skills that they can turn into paid engagements immediately. Others will earn some income as backpackers do the world over. Everyone will have the opportunity to further develop their digital skills.

Participants will have opportunities to help community service organisations either by improving their use of digital technology or by assisting in more traditional ways. When enthusiastic problem solvers learn to deliver practical services in traditional ways they are much better placed to innovate.

Digital gap year participants can start in their home town, develop their skills, expand their contact network and then have a path to international travel, the generation of some income, can give something back to the community and have some amazing life experiences before returning to continue studies or develop their career.

Backpackers are already contributing $3.2 billion dollars annually to the Australian economy. They typically earn $15,000 dollars during their stay. If we can attract young startup talent to Australia before they get swallowed up by Silicon Valley we may encourage some to stay and those who do return home will take their contacts and relationships with them expanding everyone’s network.

If young people leave Australia with a solid foundation in digital industry skills and with a network that builds products and services in their home town not only will they have a much more interesting time away, they will explore the planet with a more positive outlook towards returning.

Please use the comments option in the sidebar to continue the conversation or send me a note via the Contact option at the top of the page.

Digital Gap Year – Aims

Digital Gap Year is an idea I think should become a community service movement.

The aim is to create an environment and social network that facilitates personal development through exposure to problem solving using real-world digital technology, startup culture and the entrepreneurial mindset.

It should coordinate with high schools and tertiary education to ensure participants have a meaningful and satisfying gap year experience including personal development, travel and community service with a digital flavour.

It isn’t intended that DGY becomes a giant unpaid intern scheme. As participants develop commercial skills they may find paid work from within the programme or from external collaborators.

There are mechanisms that should allow the secondary and tertiary education sectors to directly support DGY by offering course credits.

It is intended the DGY programmes in other locations mesh with each other so that participants can travel, learn through service and work, earn some income and expand their social and collaborative network.

Participants should emerge from the programme with energy and enthusiasm for a lifetime of learning, personal achievement and confidence in their ability to make a positive difference to their world.

What do you think of the Aims? Leave a comment below.

What is a “gap year”?

When we were incubating this idea Marty Gauvin said: I’ve got kids aged from 17-36 (statistically relevant sample). The main reasons for a gap year have been (most to least important):

  • work out what I want to do
  • get some money together
  • see a bit of ‘life’
  • help people

And Ross Williams said: As I understand it, gap years are usually about travelling the world. The moment you use the term “gap year”, that’s what will spring into people’s heads. So if you want young people to spend their gap year commuting from home to some office space in Adelaide rather than trekking Nepal, you better have something good going. 🙂 So it might be better to connect to similar-minded folk in other countries to create some kind of gap exchange programme, so at least the gap year is spent somewhere else.

What other “gap year” characteristics do you think we need to capture? 

Digital Gap Year – Structure

This is naturally a work in progress so please provide feedback in comments.

Engagement with prospective Digital Gap Year participants and their families, possibly involving schools via careers counsellors should occur during their final year of high school. This isn’t essential but it will help to build momentum and peer group interest.

Participants will apply to participate via an online mechanism.

Costs of participation will be spelt out and opportunities for sponsorship and scholarships will be presented.

Barriers to entry are intended to be low:

  • Participants must be 18 or older
  • Participants must have reasonable IT skills
  • Participants must bring a laptop or tablet

An attempt to achieve gender balance and diversity will be made and the programme will be promoted widely.

There will be some general rules:

  • Business workplace standards of behaviour are required
  • Participants must treat each other with courtesy respect
  • They must treat mentors, program staff and advisors as they would a workplace manager
  • Brogrammer behaviour and harassment will not be tolerated
  • Intellectual property must be respected and rights not infringed
  • Privacy and security must be respected and not infringed

After the selection process the participants will gather for an induction into a “boot camp” period to bring participants to a common level in a number of important areas and to assess their skills and aptitude in specialist areas.

Workplace social standards and ethics will be discussed as part of explaining the DGY Workplace Policy Documents that each participant will be required to agree to and sign.

Personal development topics including health, online conduct and other “soft” skills will be covered in tutorial sessions.

Participants will then be formed into groups with a mentor who will help everyone get to know each other.

There will be introductions to the standard technology industry tools like using Google, GitHub, Stack Overflow, Office365, Slack, Trello, Discord, Ruby and the classic LAMP stack elements: Linux, Apache, Mysql and Perl.

Introductions to the local coworker and incubator spaces will be conducted.

The mentor will facilitate the discovery of some example problems to solve and will help participants to develop the skills needed.

This boot camp phase should take about a month after which the teams will be brought together to share their experiences and perform a retrospective meeting to help improve the DGY experience.

At the beginning of the next phase, participants will be introduced to some practical problems and new teams formed, facilitated using skills matrices and other tools.

Some teams may work on problems for not-for-profit organisations or charities while others may collaborate with businesses.

Some participants may move to collaboration partner business premises or to some suitable coworker environment.

Teams will meet with a mentor from time to time.

It isn’t intended that DGY becomes an unpaid intern programme. The collaboration partner may pay the participants for their work in which case the partner will own the intellectual property created but if they don’t it will remain the property of the team members under a suitable license. Opportunities for paid work will be pursued and facilitated but participants will have to use their own initiative too.

During the programme it is also likely qualified teachers or facilitators will offer optional classes, possibly for a fee. These may be conducted by or in local coworker spaces or incubators.

The problem solving experience is likely to take two or three months to complete. On completion the teams will again be brought together to share their experiences and perform a retrospective meeting to help improve the DGY experience.

Things will become somewhat more free-form at this point with travel, training and project options opening up depending on participant’s skills and financial means.

See further posts to discuss how that should work.

What do you think so far? What sort of license should we use? Leave a comment about this or anything else on this page.

Mind The Gap – Origins

Welcome to the Digital Gap Year!

Welcome to the Digital Gap Year!

During 2017 I’m challenging my friends and contacts in Adelaide to help create a “digital gap year” so that young adult digital enthusiasts can spend some time together learning to collaborate, finding real-world problems to solve, creating digital products and services, while developing relationships with experienced digital innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.

For the last year I have been helping to create the Adelaide GigCity which will bring affordable gigabit Internet connections to digital innovation precincts around Adelaide. Spending time in some of these precincts reminded me that one of the most productive times in my life was working with other technologists in a converted factory where we created cool things like this:


It also struck me how many people in my network I met at the Angle Park Computer Centre summer schools which were very informal, basically throwing a bunch of interested young people in a space with some very expensive computers.

Bringing this all together, I think a good start would be to find a suitable space in one of the precincts, gather some school leavers and Uni students, introduce them and provide them with the basic tools of the startup culture:

high speed Internet

a folding table owbfld6ft_hummingbird_6_foot_bi_fold_table

a chair smpiccmbbk_studymate_piccolo_medium_back_chair_black

and a whiteboard owmobwtbrd_ucomm_ucomm_mobile_whiteboard_900_x_1200_mm_white

At the risk of waving my hands in the air and saying “the rest is simple”, then we pull together our unique version of the incubator model.

Young people, wifi, tables and whiteboards, what could go wrong? I expect they will make forts.


Do you want to be part of this?

I’m going to need mentors, people with problems to solve, commercial sponsors and participants.

What’s in it for me? I need to hire smart cloud specialists in Adelaide so this is a recruiting venue for me and I’m keen to create more support for the next generation of digital entrepreneurs in Adelaide with projects and angel funding.

What about places beyond Adelaide? I want Digital Gap Year to work anywhere there are young people looking for an amazing gap year experience. I want people from Adelaide to roam the planet growing their network and gaining experience so that they can build valuable, global scale digital businesses in Adelaide. I want to see Digital Gap Year programs set up everywhere, from country towns to megacities and I want them to be connected.