Review of CollabDays – The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park

Since November 2010, Lightning Tools and I have helped to organize SharePoint Saturday events in the UK on an annual basis with our partner ID-Live. Last year, during the pandemic, we hosted a virtual Collabdays event which should have originally been held in Birmingham. So, we were excited to be hosting our event in-person again, and this time in a very special place!

Back in 2020, and as a Microsoft MVP, I was attending a community call which was hosted by the UK MVP lead; Claire Smyth. During the call, Claire introduced us to the museum director (Jacqui Garrad) of the National Museum of Computing in the UK. The call was a cry for help! The National Museum of Computing is home to the world oldest collection of working computers including Colossus, The Bombe, Tunny, and many more including computers from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. The museum needed to close as part of the UK lockdown during the pandemic, and therefore lost much of its income. Along with other Microsoft MVP’s, and Microsoft themselves, Lightning Tools committed to helping the museum financially. We contributed to the museum to secure new equipment for the Children’s Ambassador program and also to help support Young Adults with Autism.

This year, rather than host the Collabdays event in a hotel or conference centre as we would do usually, it now seemed obvious that we should host Collabdays at the museum. This event took place this week with great success!

Amongst 23 speakers who all gave up their time, and paid for their own travel and accommodation was Sir Dermot Turing! Sir Dermot Turing wasn’t presenting on Microsoft 365 of course, but instead spoke about his uncle; Alan Turing. It was incredibly insightful to learn more about Alan Turing, and who he really was as a person, mathematician, and scientist.

Sir Dermot Turing discussing his uncle; Alan Turing at Collabdays – Bletchley Park (The National Museum of Computing)

Other speakers including Microsoft MVPs, and community experts travelled from as far as Dallas TX, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, The Netherlands, and from across the UK. We had sessions covering topics such as SharePoint, Microsoft Viva, Microsoft Teams, Power Apps, Power Automate, and Azure. Each speaker presented their session with a backdrop of historic computers.

Albert Hoitingh speaking on encryption within Microsoft 365

Microsoft MVP Eric Shupps presented on Custom Connectors in the 1980’s classroom! This room was very nostalgic for me! I had memories of using The BBC Micro during my early school years, and this room was very reflective of that era.

Eric Shupps discussing Custom Connectors in the 1980’s Classroom

Yannick Reekmans (Microsoft MVP) spoke about his experience of moving from a Microsoft 365 Developer and applying his skills to the Microsoft Power Platform. His session was delivered with the backdrop of a working, original Tunny machine! A re-engineering of the then unseen Lorenz SZ42 cipher machine, was designed by the Post Office Research Station in 1942.

Yannick Reekmans speaking on developing within the Microsoft Power Platform

Thomas Vochten (Microsoft MVP) spoke on using Microsoft Graph as a reluctant IT Pro. Thomas presented his session with a backdrop of the oldest working digital electronic computer in the world.

Harwell Dekatron Computer, or the WITCH

This is the world’s oldest original working digital computer.

“In 1949 plans were drawn up for a machine to automate the tedious work performed by teams of bright young graduates using mechanical calculators. Simplicity, reliability and unattended operation were the design priorities. Speed was of a lower priority.

This pioneering computer first ran in 1951 and by 1952 was using 828 Dekatron tubes for program and data storage, relays for sequence control and valve-based electronics for calculations. It was its geographical location of Harwell and these valves that gave it its first name.”

Thomas Vochten presenting with a backdrop of The Dekatron!

Attendees, sponsors and speakers of the event had the opportunity to support the museum further, by purchasing one of the many books written by Sir Dermot Turing. Dermot kindly signed the books in the small gift shop which is on-site at The National Museum of Computing.

Sir Dermot Turing signing his book at The National Museum of Computing

In the Personal Computer section, I couldn’t help but show off my 80’s programming skills on what was my very first computer (The Amstrad CPC). The only difference was that my parents happened to buy the colour monitor and not the green screen. :)

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Brett showing off his (not so modern) programming skills on an Amstrad CPC

After expenses, we were able to raise more than £6000 for the museum through sponsorship alone. Our sponsors included Aiimi, 365Tribe, ID-Live, NLightning, Axioworks, and of course Lightning Tools. Further funds were raised with a raffle for a a limited edition Turing-Welchman fountain pen of which only 211 were made and many other purchases from the museum shop.

Jacqui Garrad, and her team at The National Museum of Computing did us proud, and we are delighted to announce that we will be back at the museum on the 5th October 2022!


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Sandy Ussia
28th February 2022 at 9:25 pm

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