Charles Eaton 2017-11-02 00:50:20
Busting 7 Myths about Technology Careers that Discourage Teenage Technologists MY previous articles for techdirections made the case that today’s tweens and teens will become tomorrow’s technologists and narrow our nation’s tech employment gap for us. In brief, some analysts say at least half a million open IT positions go unfilled in the U.S. during any given calendar quarter. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts IT occupations will grow 12% by 2024, as many in the tech industry reach retirement age. In combination, these factors could create a national tech talent deficit with negative consequences for workers, employers, and our economy as a whole. Creating IT Futures believes tweens and teens are a key aspect in the solution to this looming crisis because they already make up a quarter of the U.S. population and will account for more than 20% of the workforce in the next five years. Research indicates many in this group have the temperament to become more than technicians; they will be technologists, people working with technology of varied types in companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries—not just those that write software and make hardware. Workers with a technologist’s mentality—an optimal mix of hard technical and relationship skills (often called “soft skills”)—are wellsuited for today’s fast-paced, continually evolving digital business environment. But there are issues confounding and complicating raising the next generation of technologists. Seven myths about technology careers discourage potential teenage technologists and their parents. So, in my position as leader of a philanthropic organization dedicated to creating on-ramps to tech careers, I consider busting those myths not only a duty, but a pleasure. Let’s take them one by one: “technology is all about coding, math, and science.” Coding: Tech entrepreneur success stories in the news always seem to revolve around software and coding. Plus, starting salaries for web and software developers are relatively high. That’s great and surely will inspire more teens to consider tech careers. But these facts could discourage a lot of kids, too, for whom coding is neither easy, accessible, nor interesting. Reality is, as more businesses and households connect more devices to the internet, more data will be gathered, which will need to be protected and understood. We will need more technicians, network specialists, cybersecurity pros, and data analysts to handle these tasks. Plus, we will need sales and marketing pros to match all these technologists with the consumers and businesses who will need their services. And of course, we will need project managers and other expert technologists to direct and implement these transactions and relationships. Coding is only one aspect of technology. Math and science: Resourcefulness and common sense are greater predictors of success in a technology career than excelling in math and science. Communication skills such as active listening and the ability to articulate and present innovative ideas are essential for technologists. We refer to these as soft skills, with aptitude in areas such as problem solving, empathy, and entrepreneurship. True, good grades are important for anyone working toward any future career because they demonstrate the ability to learn and develop. And yes, solid grades in math and science certainly won’t hurt any aspiring student’s chances of finding a future position in technology. But for technologists, grades only tell part of the story. Curiosity and motivation are more important than an impressive report card. In short, educating technologists must include STEM classes but not be limited to them. Access to tech classes in school at any level should not be dependent on how well a student scores in math and/or science. Every school should offer opportunities to learn and work with technology that are broader than a computer science curriculum. “Working in technology requires a four-year college degree.” Multiple paths: Per the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey, 59% of computer support specialists employed that year didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. The truth is that many people land a job in tech with just some basic training and a certification. Motivated students can learn the underpinnings of technology and start troubleshooting problems or writing code after one introductory class—no matter at what age they start studying. Sure, many people learn about technology in high school and college; but plenty of others start studying through online programs that are accessible to anyone— no matter where they live. Wide Horizon: The traditional route of earning a computer science degree isn’t as narrow a road as many would expect. The development of intangible skills, such as being flexible, adaptable and collaborative, can begin in the classroom. These soft skills can help prepare young people for working in large organizations and other, smaller businesses. A structured program at the college level can familiarize students with workplace skills they will need on the job, such as functioning as part of a team and following the directions of a supervisor. Students also can begin to specialize in college, studying information systems, data analytics, and similar courses. Technology moves quickly, and neither a four-year degree nor a certain set of certifications is a guarantee of success. Like any journey, the key to pursuing a successful technology career is being willing to adjust course while staying focused on the final goal. Because the one thing we can guarantee about technology is that it will evolve. So should anyone who works with it. “if it’s not at Facebook or Google, it’s not a technology job.” No valley required: Today, tech arguably is the most crucial factor driving the global economy. So, how could a force that powerful be contained in one place? You don’t need to live in Silicon Valley to have a successful, exciting career in technology. Despite surface differences, every industry depends on IT. From small, family-run businesses— such as corner convenience stores, dry cleaners, and lawn services—to big banks and insurance companies, positions as technologists exist in almost every organization around the world. No Size Fits All: Per the CompTIA IT Industry Outlook 2017, there are about 375,000 small information technology companies in the United States, and those companies employ about 45% of the workforce in the IT industry. Thousands of jobs are available at innovative companies, large and small, and plenty of places to work exist no matter where you live. And as telecommuting becomes more popular, the opportunities will multiply. My early passions were technology and movies. In college, I wanted to be a screenwriter. Eventually, I realized that was a longshot. Instead, I focused on my strengths—problem solving and leadership—and found my calling in the nonprofit world. I’m still connected to the tech industry through my work, and movies continue to be a nice hobby. There are lots of ways to connect one’s passions to meaningful and fulfilling work. “a tech career means being stuck at a desk.” Consider the career of Chicago-based artist, agent, writer, and independent curator Jenny Lam. Lam uses her online platform to shine a spotlight on artists through unfiltered interviews. Her Artists on the Lam blog fosters art-based discussions and gives a behind-the-scenes view of the process of curating and installing works of art. Lam posts about the artists she represents, the exhibitions she curates, and her adventures discovering art and artists around the globe. Lam’s blog covers art-related topics at local, national, and international levels; she brings the world to her local readers, while making her surroundings more accessible to a global audience. Lam is a true technologist, using social media tools to position herself and her clients in the local press, while dipping into other sites as a guest blogger. She’s also a featured Instagram photographer. Technology connects us globally. So, the industry is growing all over the world, reaching into diverse, exciting businesses—and many places you may not expect. What’s happening with technology today stretches far beyond what can be displayed on a desktop monitor. “Money is the main benefit of a tech job.” Many technology jobs pay well, offering salaries significantly higher than the national average of all occupations. And yes, unemployment in tech is low, and the future of tech professions looks good. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the availability of IT jobs is projected to grow by 12% during the 10-year period 2014-2024. So, how could a high likelihood of economic gain deter today’s teens from becoming tomorrow’s technologists? Because money isn’t the only driver for young people. Creating IT Futures learned, from the Teen Views on Tech Careers survey, that having a job they love and helping other people was near the top of the list of what urban teens want in a career. Like scientists, mathematicians, and engineers,people working in technology like to solve problems. Driven by curiosity and empathy, they use big data to alleviate homelessness, for example, or get technology in the hands of people who lack economic opportunity. Our research shows many of today’s teens want their work to affect more than a bank account. Working in a tech career has the promise of so much more than just earning a good salary. “My kids won’t listen to me.” The survey also asked teens on whom they rely most for career advice. The most frequent answer was “parents and guardians.” At 68%, that answer was given more than two times more often than “teachers” (28%) and “school counselors” (25%). Teens do listen to parents. Maybe not all the time about everything parents would like to tell them. But most likely they’re listening more often than parents think they are—especially when the topic is as important as their future. So, educating parents about issues and options in schooling for tech careers is just as critical as teaching teens about their career options. “tech jobs are going overseas.” Two misconceptions give this myth staying power: An oversimplification of the global economy, and a narrow definition of the term “tech jobs”. Yes, over time certain types of technology jobs have been—and continue to be—outsourced overseas. This ebb and flow of employment across increasingly globalized industries and markets, however, doesn’t equal tech jobs leaving the U.S. economy never to return. The dynamics of world markets are too complex for such a simple conclusion—especially one that fails to account for the most crucial factor driving the global economy. The economic reality is that the digital transformation of business is creating technology jobs faster than many companies—here and abroad—can fill them. And those positions are not concentrated in one area of the country like Silicon Valley. Our research shows open technology jobs in every state on a regular basis. So, while some tech jobs in specific categories may move from our shores to others as international business expands, some of those positions can come back in time, too, as wages overseas rise or pressure is placed on U.S. companies to reshore work. But overall, these ups and downs don’t change the big picture: Plenty of tech jobs are being created in the U.S. these days, a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. And if we as educators—whether as teachers in a school environment or mentors from the business world—can clear these seven persistent myths from the minds of teens and parents today, they will be closing the tech employment gap for us tomorrow. As Executive Vice President of Social Innovation for CompTIA and CEO of Creating IT Futures, Charles Eaton leads three philanthropic endeavors for CompTIA, the world’s largest IT trade association: CompTIA Giving, Creating IT Futures, and NextUp, the organization’s initiative to inspire young people to choose technology careers.
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