March 15th, 2019

The world we live in today is full of incredible technology - but if you want to learn about it where can you start? This is the problem that Mill London Creative Technologist Noel Drew set out to solve when he started ‘Tech School’, a weekly session that teaches attendees about the basics of creative technology.

As an increasingly important part of what we do here at The Mill, it’s becoming vital that people throughout the business learn about the basics of creative technology and the opportunities it opens up.

From the Lush Spa Film Behind The Scenes

Noel and two of his students, Alfie Johnson (Mill+ Content Assistant) and Eleanor Edwards (Runner), tell us more about their experiences and the importance of understanding creative technology in today’s world.

Can you give us an overview of what Tech School is?

Noel Drew: Tech school is a weekly session I run where people can come along and learn about the basics of electronics, coding and programming microprocessors. It’s open to anyone from any department. We’re currently two thirds of the way through the first set of lessons after which everyone on the course chooses a personal project that I will guide them on while I start again with another group.

Alfie Johnson and Eleanor Edwards at Tech School

How did you decide to start up Tech School?

My role (Creative Engineer) when I started at The Mill was fairly unique. I was brought on as the guy who builds things. In a world where we are famous for making beautiful things that don’t exist my work very much “existed”. This got a lot of interest from people in the Experiential + Interactive department and elsewhere in the building. People would regularly comment on how interesting and exciting the work I got to do was. They would say “I wish I knew how to do that”.

One night during some after work drinks a couple of the runners were asking me about how it all worked, so the next day I promptly bought the parts they would need and started putting together the first lesson plan. The rest is history.

Why do you think Tech School important?

Since I started here at The Mill I’ve seen a marked increase in the amount of briefs for non-conventional advertising be it immersive, VR, AR, experiential etc. This is partly due to an industry wide trend in emerging technologies but also due to an increased focus internally. The Mill has adapted to a heightened demand from clients and evolved its creative tech offering into a highly skilled and versatile team with a broad skill set. This can be seen in projects such as Corona ‘Paraiso Secreto’, which are a divergence from the traditional VFX work we have become famous for. As we continue to grow in this field it is essential we continue to attract the best talent and train and develop those moving into this field internally as well as educate other areas of the business about the work we are doing.

From the Corona ‘Paraiso Secreto’ Behind The Scenes

What do you see tech school covering in the following months?

By week 5 people in the class build a circuit that could be inserted into your pillow at night and automatically turn on and vary the speed of a fan in the case you get too hot. Working at this level helps demystify the field of electronics and coding and gives people an understanding of the sort of things that are possible with just a little knowledge. It also helps people to think differently. As experiential director my job is to understand how humans experience their surroundings and to have an understanding of how I can change that. Teaching the basics allows people to start creating prototypes and developing concepts themselves.

Eleanor Edwards at Tech School

Adding to this, we asked Alfie Johnson and Eleanor Edwards, who have been attending tech school, to tell us more about their experience there.

Why did you decide to go to tech school?

Alfie Johnson: To develop my knowledge of creative and applicable technology and hopefully be able to bring the immersive elements of this into my own projects as well as assisting on future Mill+/CT jobs.

Eleanor Edwards: I've been wanting to buy an Arduino kit for years and Noel was offering an opportunity to share his experience. I saw this as a great way to get a solid introduction as, although online presents a fantastic learning resource, when you are starting out nothing beats having easy access to expertise as you often don’t understand enough to be able to problem-solve faults in your projects.

One of Eleanor Edwards’ projects in Tech School

What have you learned, and does it relate to what you want to do career-wise?

Alfie Johnson: We have learned a lot about coding and coding language, as well as more tactile things such as wiring basic circuits and programming its components. Mill+ does a large range of diverse projects, including CT jobs which tend to require a lot of tech. So it’s good to get an understanding of how this side of the job can work should any help be needed.

Eleanor Edwards: I'm developing an understanding of how I can use electronics and coding to program and utilise interactivity. Ultimately I would love to be able to design interactive experiences, so this is helping me expand my knowledge within that field.

Eleanor Edwards, Noel Drew and Alfie Johnson at Tech School

How do you feel about starting your personal project soon, and do you know what you want to be working on?

Alfie Johnson: I’m keen to start applying some of these things to a real life brief and see them working on a larger scale. I have a rough idea of what I want to accomplish, which includes an interactive hologram, so it should be a lot of fun.

Eleanor Edwards: Having a project to work on is going to tie together what I have already learnt so that my understanding can be solidified. I am aiming to build a mini diorama that will be reactive to different types of pollution, measured from light, sound and air pollution. These elements will affect the environment of the diorama.