7 min read
You should know: Gemma Cameron – the North West tech community dynamo
It’s always heartening to hear of people who find a job that lets them do exactly what makes them happy.
Gemma Cameron is a case in point. She’s just taken on a new role within the Co-op’s growing digital team that allows her to pursue her passions. “In addition to working as a dev and tech lead, I’ll support Co-op Digital in reaching out to the digital community,” she says. “We’ll be doing this by running new events and supporting existing groups. Co-op Digital are giving me a job which allows me to do all this great community work I’m already doing.”
This move is the latest chapter in a story that began for Cameron at the age of 8 in Preston. When her dad brought a laptop home, she threw herself into computers. By age 14 she knew she wanted to study Computer Science at university. That’s exactly what she ended up doing at the University of Salford.
She’s since carved out a career as a software engineer at companies like LateRooms and Allegro Networks. But it’s her ‘extra curricular’ work that has made Cameron such a key part of the the North West’s tech scene.
Events, so many events
Early on, she organised GeekUp meetups in Preston. “A whole host of people who came to those events are now involved in the tech community,” Cameron says. And that’s the point – her work brings people together and makes technology welcoming to new people.
After setting up what became an annual BarCamp in Blackpool in 2009 (“it was an event I wanted to go to that didn’t exist”), she became one of the founders of HackManchester in 2012. With its strong branding and inclusive approach, it has become a strong fixture in the city’s event calendar. Cameron runs this 24-hour hackathon with collaborators Joe Swan and Claire Foster, and a team of volunteers.
Now in its fourth year, HackManchester has spawned a spin-off games-creation weekend called Jamchester. It turned out to be the largest event of its kind in the UK.
The next generation
Last year, Cameron expanded the scope of her events to include young people. A coding event in Manchester led to positive results. She says that the behaviour of the kids who took part changed for the better and they became more communicative.
That event inspired a series of hack events during half term school holidays. And this week has seen GM Hackfest, a series of summer coding events for 13-19-year-olds, take place across Greater Manchester.
A short list about Gemma
Talking to Cameron, it can be easy to reduce her activities to a list because there are simply so many. In fact, taking notes as I spoke to her, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Here are a few other things she does, or has done:
- She runs Tech North West, a shared calendar and Slack workspace for events organisers in the region that has inspired similar initiatives in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. In fact, all three regions now have a shared directory of speakers.
- She’s a member of Manchester Digital‘s elected council (alongside Vikas Shah – previously featured in one of these Movers & Shakers articles – Tech North’s director Richard Gregory, and me).
- She helped out Madlab with a digital skills programme for unemployed women. She found it really rewarding and is now on the organisation’s board.
- She went to Karachi in Pakistan to look at ‘digital twinning’ with Manchester and ran events there over the space of three days.
- She also likes keeping ferrets as pets. I only mention this in case you wondered why a small mustelid was peeping over her shoulder in the photo above. I thought ferrets were rodents, but no – apparently they eat rodents.
Despite having key roles in so many different projects, Cameron is one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll meet in tech. She genuinely wants to help people find their way into the local community, and her passion and drive is a real asset to the region.
Aside from her new role at the Co-op, Cameron is focused on HackManchester’s fifth event, this October. It will tie in with the tenth year of Manchester Science Festival. Preceding the main event will be a Junior event aimed at people aged 18 and under. You can find out more about both events here.