DTW | Even heading for a mistake is okay at Night of the Nerds

More than five thousand high-school pupils and students of secondary vocational education spent Tuesday afternoon visiting Night of the Nerds, now in its seventh year an established feature of Dutch Technology Week. A steady stream of coaches came and went at the Klokgebouw on Strijp-S, depositing school pupils from miles around so they could take a couple of hours to get a feel for technology and experience it for themselves.

photo Night of the Nerds

Surrounded by the seething mass of teenagers, Maurice Schmitz, seven years ago one of the founding fathers of Night of the Nerds, sighs with relief - the event is taking off. He's particularly pleased to see how the bunches of school pupils, whose first moves towards an activity are often hesitant, end up chatting to the teams and companies who are here.

Continue reading below the photo.

“Showing what the world of technology is going to encompass” to young people aged roughly fourteen to twenty - this, says Schmitz of the organizing foundation FutureBites, is the main aim today. With as the guiding formula: ‘technology + creativity = innovation’, because you can't have one without the other. And thus those attending Night of the Nerds include not only tech companies and TUs but also art schools and other creatives. Something they all have in common, according to Schmitz, is this: they are non-conventional thinkers, people who don't color within the lines. “These are the people who are shaping the future of The Netherlands PLC”.

And in so saying, he is indirectly conveying a message to schools: “As a rule, everything has to be done well in education. While the essence of non-conventional thinking is that it occasionally involves setting course for a mistake. And that's one of the things we want pupils to be able to experience here; to try things out, have something crash and burn for once, go up in smoke. That's when you learn the most”.

But someone who clearly isn't getting much out of this is Carlijn, a school pupil from Rosmalen. Together with a school friend, she is sitting on the floor in the lobby, bored and waiting for the remaining ninety minutes to pass before the coach comes to collect her group. Today's visit to the Night of the Nerds was mandatory for all the fourth year pre-university pupils at her school. “I thought it would be really interesting but it's mostly just really busy and I thought we'd be able to have a go on lots more things.”


The Segways in the back left corner of the large hall did appeal to her, however  - and her response is shared  by all the young people who spot the two-wheelers this afternoon - but the visitors are only allowed to ride them if they have done or visited at least four other activities. But as her body language powerfully says: that's not on the cards for Carlijn today.

Continue reading below the photo.

The Best 9th Grader Maud, by contrast, is zipping about the building. She has just been introduced to ‘Digital Seasoning’ ( a Design Academy graduate project) and has experienced how different images projected right in front of your nose can influence your taste experience of any given candy. How exactly does it work? Maud has no idea - but whatever, she is one check mark closer to her Segway ride.

All the 9th graders studying general secondary education (mavo) at Maud's school are at Night of the Nerds today. Likewise for these pupils it's compulsory - who, while they might be having a great time and are impressed by what the various ‘stallholders’ in the Klokgebouw have developed, don't yet see themselves ending up in the technology sector. “You'd have to know so unbelievably much about stuff like this. And be able to focus - and I'm already not very good at that.” Maud isn't really enjoying the subject Techna op school, a mix of tech and physics (natuurkunde). But that's partly because of the teacher, she adds subtly.

Four girls from Nijmegen are displaying considerably more enthusiasm. But then they aren't here this afternoon because they have to be, but because they got the chance to come - despite their busy spring timetable at school. Two of them, Anouk and Eline, are even here for the second year running; the other two let themselves be persuaded to join them this time around.

Beat the Laser

All four of them have just played a game of ‘Beat the Laser’ - an interactive light artwork developed by Fontys students, on show last year during GLOW. It is a version of the game 'Simon Says', in which players have to place their hands in the colored laser beams in order to mimic a combination set by the computer.  Really fun is the verdict of the Nijmegen girls, “but not very difficult”. More than the others, Anouk thinks she might like a career in technology and is considering whether to study Industrial Design at TU/e in a little over two years' time. “I think it would be really fun to develop things yourself.”

Continue reading below the photo.

Some people who already have some experience of this are Evie de Fouw and Rik Benoist of TU/e's student team Blue Jay - present at the Night of the Nerds this Tuesday afternoon with a cage of nets in which school pupils can try to steer a drone. A small drone gets caught in the ‘roof’ of the cage, well out of anyone's reach, which prompts Blue Jay to produce one of its own drones as a replacement. “But they aren't allowed to fly it, we'll do that,” says team manager Benoist.

The TU/e students describe the event as 'cool', even though for Blue Jay there is little direct ‘benefit’ to be gained in the way of new team members, for example. But drawing on their own experience to help enthuse young people for technology, that's something TU/e people are keen to do - as is prompting the school pupils to think about possible uses of drones as human assistants. Nonetheless, many pupils remain somewhat timid, observes De Fouw, and left to their own devices don't ask that many questions. Benoist adds: “Mainly, as far as the young people are concerned, it has to be cool and fun, they want to be able to do things. At their age, they are much less interested in the application something may have; it'll be about three years before that interest develops.”

This week Cursor will be visiting a different DTW event or location each day. So keep an eye on our website for more updates!

Share this article