Talking to Students about Working in Technology
For the past three years, I’ve been invited by TechnoCompétences to speak about my work and career to high school students around Montreal as part of the initiative called Ma Carrière Techno. I just gave my last talk in December, and will be participating for a fourth year in the spring. I thought I’d share some of my observations and insights from my experience.
How did I get involved with Ma Carrière Techno and TechnoCompétences?
An acquaintance forwarded an email from TechnoCompétences looking for new and diverse speakers to come in and talk to students about their careers in IT and the web. It sounded like an amazing opportunity for students to hear about not only the studies required and what kinds of jobs are available, but to hear actual insights from practicing professionals.
I toyed with the idea of participating, not sure if I was brave enough to talk in front of teenagers – especially since I hadn’t ever spoken at a conference or meetup before. Let’s admit it: teenagers are scary, especially if they are undisciplined in their classrooms. But I gave them my name, and soon enough I found myself explaining to students what a frontend developer is, and telling them about the career I’ve had for the last *gasp* 17 years.
Now that I’m going into my fourth year participating in TechnoCompétences, I can say I really do love sharing my knowledge and experience about my field, the studies that led me here, and the projects and type of work I’ve done over the years.
What did I talk about, specifically?
The talks I’ve given fall under the umbrella project called Ma Carrière Techno, a website maintained by the people from TechnoCompétences. The speakers were tasked to talk about our current work, the projects that we do, the technologies we play with, a typical day of work, the studies we did, and any other pertinent information related to working in technology. And just to be sure to get the students’ attention during my presentations, I make sure to include pictures of cats on every slide.
If you don’t know him, the cat is Atchoum, a Quebec-based cat popular on the Internet
What were the overall reactions of the students?
Overall, the students’ reactions and questions depended on their age and grade. The older they were, the more the questions were related to work conditions, work/life balance, salary, the overall ambiance and stress load, etc. The younger ones mostly focused their questions on the salary, the gaming or porn industry (!), and the ‘jetset’ lifestyle they had stereotyped in their mind about the glamourous life of a Web Developer/programmer/tech professional (LOL!).
For the questions related to the gaming industry, I had the dubious task of redirecting their attention to my work (which is NOT gaming related). I did mention that I had to create a game while studying in the Techniques d’intégration multimédia, and that coding a game actually confirmed my interests in website/digital project development, and NOT in videogames.
Since I’d mentioned some of the conferences I’ve attended – Smashing NYC, and Hope XI – some kids asked me questions about hacking (ahhh, the joy of media influences and stereotypes!). I filled them in on some of the rising challenges of securing our websites and data infrastructures from outside attacks, and encouraged them to read more and start tinkering.
The older the students got, the more specifically career-related their questions got. These are the students who are making decisions about their career path and their next steps in their studies. Some of their questions included:
Did I travel a lot for work?
Some, for conferences or to visit our clients’ offices.
Is remote work possible?
I have worked as a remote web developer and freelanced for several years before coming to Plank.
What is the typical work schedule?
9-to-5ish here at Plank, with some flexibility depending on our deadlines.
What are some of the projects you’ve worked on?
A lot of different clients like Evenko, the Fantasia Festival, and the band Rush, to name a few.
What was the worst mistake I’ve made in my career?
Seriously, I’ve been lucky on that aspect!
What is the work culture like?
Pretty relaxed in general – a philosophy of working hard but still having fun together.
While not a lot of the students said they would pursue a career in web/IT, there were always 1-3 hands up when I asked who was interested by the field. And – good news – at each talk I asked the question, at least one girl raised her hand. There is still hope for a more diverse workforce in the future!
Like I mentioned at the beginning, I’ll participate again in spring 2017 in the next round of Ma Carrière Techno presentations. I’ve really enjoyed my experience so far: talking about my love for my job and career and sharing my enthusiasm for tech and web technologies while being a geek girl in the Montreal tech scene is always fun. The students seem to respond well to my presentations even if they aren’t considering a career in tech, and there always seems to be one or two students that is interested to study and enter our field.