2014-05-31

Talking to 6th graders about careers in technology

For the final week before summer vacation, Washington Middle School teacher Daniele Albrecht invited me and several others to Career Week for an opportunity to speak to 6th graders about what we do for a living. The chance to do this excited me because I often reflect on my own childhood at the point when I was beginning to think about technology as a job; having accessible people around willing to share their experiences, guidance, and knowledge can be a powerful motivator.

I did two sessions, and the students were top-notch in both of them (the teachers Bill Spradley and Bill Ethridge were excellent hosts as well). They really seemed to be interested in what it takes to do what I do; I could tell because we went over allotted time with more questions than I could answer. We talked about things like:
  • "What's your typical day look like?"
  • "How much do you make?" - one of the first questions both times, but I didn't mind giving a ballpark figure; mainly because I remember hearing as a child how much doctors made; that left an impression on me and motivated me to get a good job actually
  • "What can I do to learn and start programming?"
  • "Can I code games at home?" - a good question actually; that's how I got started a Commodore 64!
I stuck to a simple narrative: there are companies who want to pay people to use technology to make more money, and I laced it with examples about making video games, building robots, creating mobile apps, etc (things they could relate to). It worked out really well I think. I could see a little bit of me in some of the student's reactions; their interest in my words captured their attention and you could see I got through to a few of them.

The key things I wanted them to walk away with were:
  • Start tinkering and self-learning now
  • Pursue a degree
  • Most of all, apply yourself
Lastly, Jimmy Jacobson's (@jimmyjacobson) post today in /r/programming reminded me to blog about this. In hindsight it would have be useful to have fun illustrations to share while I talked. Jimmy sets a creative example to follow; fork and modify for yourself if you ever have the opportunity to do this!

Thanks to the teachers who organized this and to the students who listened and wrote me this nice thank you card!