While teaching at a CodeChangers Tech Camp for children and teens, I was making rounds in a microcontrollers coding workshop (i.e., micro:bits). Stopping at a table where a slumped-over boy sat, I asked how he was doing. He uncomfortably fiddled with his micro:bit and, with a shrug, muttered that coding wasn’t really his thing. To this day, I wish I would have explained that it was totally okay that he wasn’t interested, and almost everything he learned there could be applied to any subject of choice.
I wish I could go back and clarify that “tech careers” are not narrowed down to just coding or computer science, as is often perceived. In fact, the general job landscape is changing so rapidly that it is estimated that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist” (McLeod & Fisch, n.d., as cited in World Economic Forum, 2016). As educators in technology, we need to recognize that helping kids pursue their dreams puts them ahead in the workforce, teach how the diversity of tech can help springboard kids into any field of interest, and clarify that the skills learned from tech can prepare them for any career.
Encouraging Students to Pursue Dreams Puts Them Ahead
Careful study should go into weighing the pros and cons of a career before pursuing it. However, we should not let reasoning dismiss dreams. As a student, I always felt that it was necessary that I stuck with a “logical career”—one that was stable and full of money. Dreams I had of becoming a voice actress or illustrator were shoved to the side as I pursued a much more stiff, nine-to-five job. “Stability first then dreams later” was my mantra as I begrudgingly walked into my university classes. Then, it all came crashing down on me. I ended up leaving my graduate program I worked so hard to get into. Six years of sleepless nights and grinding for exams were down the drain. I moved back home—defeated and beaten, with my self-confidence at an all time low.
I then decided to forget it all, and went back to school to pursue a design degree. If “logical” careers weren’t for me, I’d shoot for the moon. I chose to go into Interaction Design—where I combined my love of the arts with the field of technology. Three years later, I am now working as a full-time graphic designer where I regularly create illustrations and help teach kids about tech. I even do voice overs for YouTube content creators in my spare time. In regards to stability, I’ve had more career opportunities with my design degree than I ever did with my first field, and have even been told of the potential to earn a six-figure salary—a much higher paycheck than what I would have ever earned in my first field of choice.
If I had just pursued the dreams I had been interested in from the start, I would be so much further in my career than where I am at today. In my case, dismissing my dreams put me behind not ahead. I used to be ashamed that I wasn’t interested in more “logical” careers such as being a nurse, engineer or computer programmer. I didn’t allow myself the breathing room to take chances. We cannot instill this kind of thought process into our students. In fact, if we encourage students to combine and create careers based on what they dream to be, similar to how I had the opportunity to merge the arts with tech, there will be spaces they create that don't exist now!
We also need to let students know they don’t have to be locked into one single career. In Marci Alboher’s book, “One Person/Multiple Careers,” choosing to pursue diverse fields is actually a desirable choice (2007, p. 15). So being a ballerina/physicist/teacher/cake decorator/programmer is actually doable? You bet it is! Now of course, more time may be spent in one subject, and another may fit the “hobby” category, but that is still beneficial. Alobher found that “people who have figured out how to add slashes to their lives [i.e., pursue multiple fields] are an incredibly fulfilled bunch, both in what they think of as work and what they think of as ‘life’” (Alboher, 2007, p. 15). Essentially, pursuing career paths we find fulfilling will actually (surprise, surprise) fulfill our lives.
As teachers, we need to guide students into dream careers—not smother the life out of aspirations. There are too many stories of teachers telling students what can’t be done instead of exploring the ways of what can be done. If our students are interested in a certain ambition, no matter how wild, be encouraging and see how you can open doors for them to pursue that dream (or how they can mix it with tech!)—which in the end, will put them ahead.
Teach About the Diversity of Tech and How It Applies to Any Career
Technology fields have been long associated with computers and coding—which, in itself, is a wonderful thing! Humanity has come a long way in regards to it’s inventions. However, we as educators, need to be careful to not give the impression that all jobs in technology only pertain to coding and computers. We need to expand the possibilities to our students and let them know
that technology may be an avenue to get them into the field they want! For example, if you have a student that is interested in criminal justice, guide them towards Cyber Forensics—a career that has digital gumshoes find incriminating evidence by “uncovering and describing the information contained on, or the state or existence of, a digital artifact [e.g., disks and computer systems]” (Criminal Justice Degree Schools, 2020). These officials are certainly a force to be reckoned with in regards to creative criminals in cyberspace.
What if a student is interested in the arts? Point out careers such as UX UI Design, Industrial Design, or Motion Graphics Design. Now, of course, comes the question of how profitable these careers would be. I mean, they are art right? Not so fast. Let’s examine UX UI Design for example—a career focused on designing the layout, look and experience of items such as websites and applications. The average salary of a UX UI Designer in the United States is 85k a year (Glass Door, 2020). Certainly a pretty penny compared to the annual 36k earned by the average American (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). Art and technology go hand in hand—making the myth of “art not being a real career” invalid.
Mixing any career with technology can bring about amazing benefits. When reviewing this article with my co-worker and veteran STEM teacher, Madison Clark, she commented that “one of the coolest things about tech is that you can mix anything you love with it, and [probably] make way more money than you could without it” (personal communication, November 16, 2020).
However, merging technology with a job of choice doesn’t just mean a potentially fatter piggy bank. Having skills such as programming can increase the likelihood of opportunities such as promotions (Frost, n.d.). In essence, if you are able to show that you can use a high-in-demand tool, such as coding or programming, you become that much more of a valuable asset to a team.
Even if students are not interested in pursuing or merging tech into a career, it is important to help students understand why they are learning subjects such as coding. Experiences in collaboration, creative problem solving, trial and error are common lessons that have to be learned when figuring out tasks like soldering wires or pursuing a fugitive bracket—all soft skills applicable to any field of choice. Showing them how and why learning these skills can help in future careers can make students more motivated to understand and master subjects that may not be as interested in. Clark went on to say that “I love that tech gives the kids a baseline of skills, and then they get to use those skills to create new stuff to solve problems, which can be used in any field” (personal communication, November 16, 2020). The benefits of merging technology into careers is not only valuable to future financial endeavors and opportunities, but also to personal growth no matter what a student’s goal is.
Technology is now beyond coding and computers. It can help students pursue their dreams. As teachers, let our classrooms be a place where we use our expertise in technology to get our students where they want to be—whether it be in STEM or not.
Teaching that there are more careers in technology than just computers and coding gives our students a broader perspective of what technology can do. No matter if it is encouraging students to get a head start on their dreams, helping them springboard into a field they want to be in or even just learning soft skills, teaching about the possibilities of tech gives students a
much more expansive view of what they could do with the subjects you teach. The sky's the limit with a student’s dreams, but perhaps, with technology, you can help them go even further.
Alboher, M. (2007). One person/multiple careers: The original guide to the slash career (p. 15). New York: Warner Business Books.
Criminal Justice Degree Schools. (2020, October 14). Computer Forensics Investigator: Career guide. In Criminal Justice Degree Schools. Retrieved from https://www.criminaljusticedegreeschools.com/careers/computer-forensics-investigator/
Frost, A. (n.d.). 4 major reasons you need coding skills even if you don't want to be an engineer. In The Muse. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-major-reasons-you-need-coding-skills-even-if-you-dont-want-to-be-an-engineer
Glassdoor. (2020, November 3). Ux Ui designer salaries. In Glassdoor. Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/ui-ux-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,14.htm
U.S. Census Bureau. (2020, September 16). Real median personal income in the United States [MEPAINUSA672N]. In U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N
World Economic Forum. (2016, January). The future of jobs: Employment skills and workforce strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. In World Economic Forum. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf