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UKIE's Jo Twist - Part 1

Part one: How UKIE's new CEO is hoping to evolve the trade body through links to government and education

Taking the position of CEO at one of the industry's trade bodies is never a light undertaking, but doing so in a time of such great transition and turmoil can't make it any easier. Add to that the fact that Jo Twist took over in a week which saw the industry at the centre of a swathe of government attention and activity and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the new boss might be showing the strain somewhat.

In fact, when we meet with Jo in UKIE's London office, she's full of energy and enthusiasm, interspersing UKIE policy and wider ideas with relaxed jokes and anecdotes. Make no mistake, however, Twist has a serious and broad ranging agenda for both the body and the industry as a whole - but one which pivots on a single key factor: listening to her members.

In this first half of a two-part interview, Twist explains her general views on what she sees as UKIE's main responsibilities, why we need more industry rockstars and the role of education in games and vice versa.

GamesIndustry.bizSo, your first week has been quite eventful, what have you already identified as the key areas which you see UKIE as needing to be involved in?
Jo Twist

So, obviously coming into this job from Channel 4 education, I was very interested in the Next Gen Skills campaign. That was what grabbed my attention. That was very close to my heart, given my background, the things I've been involved in, the power of games as I see it in young people's lives. Not just as an industry but in the sense of formats themselves.

I've already got an idea of priorities that we need to focus on, and a couple that I'm bringing in. But I'm going to be spending the first hundred days, really doing a lot of listening. We have over one hundred members, we have the board, we have a lot of people in the industry I want to talk to.

I want to spend that time listening, actively, then making a decision about what the road map ahead is going to be. I think I initially said I wanted to make a three year plan, but I think it has to be an 18 month road map, really, of where we want to be. I have to spend that time doing that listening.

I want to spend that time listening, actively, then making a decision about what the road map ahead is going to be.

I think the Next Gen Skills campaign is absolutely critical to keeping that momentum going and I think that what happened last week and UKIE's role in leading that campaign has been fantastic and the team have done a brilliant job.

Now, I'm laying down the challenge of making sure that every campaign we do makes as much noise. It's really shown to me that UKIE's got such a strong leadership role in speaking to government and opening those doors, whereas before perhaps we haven't had such strong representation in terms of the games industry.

It's great that we're leading that. I think the next stage is about implementation and the role that we play in the industry in supporting and educating teachers and figuring out how we actually action this and make it a cool part of the curriculum.

GamesIndustry.bizThat's something that I've discussed before, actually, that there might be this Catch 22 situation where you move to computer skills in the curriculum, but there are no graduates to teach it because all of those people have moved on to jobs in the tech industry. Obviously this is a long term plan, what's the next step in making sure you keep that momentum going?
Jo Twist

Obviously teachers do a fantastic job, and it's a bloody hard job; my mother was a teacher and I know how hard they work. There are a lot of other things that they need to care about as well. It's really about giving them resources, figuring out what resources we as an industry can provide them with, in terms of actual resources or lesson plans.

Teachers are very good at doing lesson plans, but they need time to understand how to use this in the classroom and why they should be using certain things, whether they be games or programming languages like Scratch.

We're going to be doing a lot of consulting with teachers, education leaders and governors; that's one of our main priorities, to understand what their requirements are. Figuring out what the very basics of computer science are across the industry which we want kids and graduates to come out with, what we want people to go into higher education with.

It's really about an approach to computer science rather than learning any particular language, because as we know, that changes all the time. I think that's a mistake that people have made before. It's really about identifying what the best principles are that we need people to come out with, how that we can best give teachers the resources so they can decide how to use those resources in the classroom to achieve those goals; then we can find that we have a really rich seam of highly talented individuals coming out of school and university and straight into jobs.

We've got a role, as UKIE, to play in that as well. Helping our members, especially younger developers, to get access to that talent. There's so much talent that we could actually provide the industry with.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you see that as something which you could do in conjunction with the people who would perhaps be your eventual competitors for those graduates? The UK science industry has had a rough time over the last few years, grants and research are down - the whole programme could do with some help. Do you see those areas as competitors?

Games can open up so many different avenues in so many other disciplines. It's not just about providing people who can create games full stop.

Jo Twist

I don't see anybody as competitors. I'm a big fan of the collaborative approach, because we're all in it for the same aim, which is to get more young people interested in computer science and other science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

Especially with girls, obviously as a woman I would say that, but it's a very, very big problem - I think a collaborative approach is the only way forward. Sometimes that can be difficult because you end up struggling to decide what your actually going to do, but we're ready to step up to that mark and take a leadership role in that.

Games aren't necessarily just about computer science. The examples we've seen of kids in classrooms using Scratch, being completely turned off maths and other subjects, and afterwards getting really into maths and suddenly realising, 'oh my god, I'm using maths to make this game!'

Games can open up so many different avenues in so many other disciplines. It's not just about providing people who can create games full stop.

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