After studying graphic design and learning to code, Rachel Clancy saw a gap in the market for young children. She decided to launch ‘A Hero’s Guide to Gardening,’ an interactive app aimed at improving literacy and mental health among children aged 10-12.
What was the most valuable thing you took away from the Scholarship and why?
The funding was hugely impactful to our project, but I’m also so grateful for all the coaching, mentoring, and workshops Sky has organised for us as part of the Scholarship. They are helping us to grow our businesses through teaching us about PR, marketing and communications. I’ve really enjoyed working with my Sky mentor Rachna Murray, who is a senior product lead for the Sky Kids app, and also Debbie Forester, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter.
Have you always wanted to pursue a career in tech?
My Dad worked for Dell when I was growing up, and we always had a computer in the house from when I was very small. When I was a teenager, I started getting into drawing programs, a friend of mine gave me a cracked copy of Photoshop on a CD when I was 14. In college, I studied graphic design and did my first bit of HTML/CSS coding while learning about web design. I saw pursuing technology as a way to sustain a creative career, and I think it’s been good to me so far!
As a woman, what has your experience been so far?
I think I have had a rare and very fortunate experience of the tech industry. The first coding workshop I ever attended was hosted by an organisation called Code Liberation; they provide free programming lessons to “women, nonbinary, femme, and girl-identifying people”. I remember going to the first session and seeing a room full of women who were all creative technologists.
It struck me as bittersweet; it was amazing to see so many female programmers in one place, but I realised it felt surprising to me because I had never seen it before. I’ve been very lucky to get started with this kind of support network behind me, but I know that’s not the case for every woman in this industry. Women account for only 19% of the digital technology workforce, and with those figures, the average experience is more likely to be of isolation than community.
Tell us a bit about your project
A Hero’s Guide To Gardening is a mobile game for kids aged between 10-12, that aims to help players develop their emotional literacy and begin a conversation about positive mental health. The game has been designed in partnership with teachers and mental health professionals to cover off the most relevant subject matter for kids dealing with the stresses and strains of growing up in 2020.
I created the game with my partner Aida during a game jam in January 2019, and we’ve been developing it ever since. We designed Hero’s Guide with parents and caregivers in mind, as well as the playable game, Hero’s Guide will be supported with an online content hub that expands on the in-game content and provides talking points to help adults talk about emotional wellbeing with the children they care for.
Why is it so important?
The UK is experiencing worsening children’s mental health crisis. NHS figures in 2018 report that one in eight children are presenting with a mental health disorder and the Children’s Commissioner’s report from 2019 reported that children in the UK are the least happy they have been in a decade.
Societal attitudes towards mental health are changing, but at the same time, kids are growing up in an increasingly stressful world. From our research with parents, we’ve found that many feel under-equipped to support their children when they were not educated on mental health and emotional literacy themselves. Our project aims to help parents feel better prepared to talk to their kids about their feelings and how to process them healthily.
How did you hear about the Sky Women in Tech Scholarship?
I subscribe to a great email newsletter by a wonderful guy called Colin Macdonald called Games Opportunites, where he collects funding/speaking/festival/exhibition opportunities relevant to gaming and creative technology. I want to give him a shout out to say thank you because without him I would never have found the Scholarship!
Where you actively research such a scheme?
There are dozens of funding opportunities that launch every year, the Games Opportunities newsletter is a great place to find them, but often you’ll see them shared out on Twitter or Instagram (for more creative-focused programs).
What challenges did you face before receiving Sky’s help?
I work full time, so I’ve always had to carve out scraps of time here and there for personal projects. Still, the Sky Women in Technology Scholarship has given me this focused timeframe to produce this piece of work that is entirely the creation of myself and my partner Aida. We are pushing ourselves hard to keep balancing our jobs with game development, but knowing that we have this structure to work towards is helping us make timely progress and stay on track.
How have you managed the demands, obstacles and fears involved with launching your venture?
It’s scary because I want to prove Sky right for choosing our project, I want to do justice to all the hard work Aida and I have put in so far, and I want our game to have a meaningful impact for players. The pressure is daunting sometimes but I look at where we were when we started and where we are now and the growth and progress we’ve made in half a year is really heartening. Our goal is to launch the game and for it to be well received, but we just try to take it one day at a time and focus on the progress we are making every day.
What are you most excited about regarding your project and career?
Right now I’m just dreaming of seeing our game in the App Store, finished and polished and looking beautiful. The long term dream is that we keep getting to make more of these games/playable experiences that tackle mental health themes because that’s the kind of work that I’d be proud to spend my life making.
Who outside of the tech world has been a major influence on where you are today?
Maybe this isn’t really in the role model space, but I have some really wonderful friends who have been there for me when I was going through my tribulations with my mental health. When my self-esteem was really low, and I felt like I wasn’t worth much, having them in my life made me feel like “if these guys think I’m good enough, then maybe I’m ok”. I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like now that I’m hustling to get this game fully baked, but I love them a lot, and I’m so grateful for them.
How do you take time out to manage your mental wellbeing?
I hit the wall with burnout once or twice last year as I was finishing my MA in Independent Game and Playable Experience Design, so I’ve gotten better at managing stress before it completely overtakes me. Aida is my girlfriend and the co-creator of Hero’s Guide so taking time to get out of the house, going to see a movie or getting out for a walk and some fresh air helps us relax and spend time together that isn’t working on the game. I try to see a counsellor once a month if possible to vent things I’m worried about. I find it helpful to talk to someone objectively to get things straight in my head, like an impartial sounding board.
I don’t think I have many regrets, there have been plenty of challenges, but that’s all part of the learning process. Thankfully we haven’t had any major disasters (I’m probably jinxing myself saying that), but I think we are pretty good at keeping things in perspective so even if things go pear-shaped I think we’ll be alright.
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs in tech?
I think getting connected with different communities in tech was really helpful for me. I mentioned the organisation Code Liberation, they offer free coding lessons to female-identifying/non-binary people and they’ve been a great support network ever since. There are networking groups like Ada’s List for female tech executives/professionals who we’ve tapped into while we were looking to hire a developer for Hero’s Guide. There are specific groups for game designers, for women in games, for LGBT technologists, both online and as meetup groups, and I’ve found them really helpful for getting advice and support with our project.
Finally, what does the future hold?
I’m hoping the future holds a game that Aida and I are proud of and a nice long rest for us both as a reward! The scholarship ends for us in June/July, when they’ll be announcing the next round of recipients, so our goal is to have Hero’s Guide ready to go by summer 2020.