Why choose a career in tech? Earlier origins (Conference panel)
The past weekend I was part of a panel at GITCon (organized by UTS, University of Toronto schools), where I answered questions about my career in tech to an audience of middle school students.
Here are the panel questions and my advice in response to them, which I hope can help people interested in a career in tech, or folks already in tech who can be mildly amused by earlier origin stories.
- Why did you choose a career in a technology-related field?
- What advice do you have for girls in grades 6-8 who are interested in pursuing careers in tech-related fields?
- Were there any role models for you during your middle school and high school career? How did they help shape you into who you are today?
Why did you choose a career in a technology-related field?
The main types of software I had exposure to as a kid were games, and some flavour of Microsoft Word. I downloaded Age of Empires 2 (the 1999 version I believe) on a school computer, which had really lax policies, when I was in elementary school.
I didn’t play many games that were popular with my classmates, which were mostly Nintendo Gameboy games, because my parents didn’t believe in buying separate devices for gaming. Due to that, I was more engrossed in computer games, and subsequently, emulated Pokemon games (shh).
So it was always in the back of my mind that I could run programs on computers, and that computers themselves were used to create games.
However, at the time, there were no mandatory CS or programming courses in the school curriculum at all. It wasn’t until 15 years or so later, that I started self-learning programming to make visual novel games while in my 3rd year of university.
Eventually, those skills, combined with statistics expertise from my formal education in econometrics, led to me entering the field of Data Science.
What advice do you have for girls in grades 6-8 who are interested in pursuing careers in tech-related fields?
Looking back, allowing myself to freely explore my interests led me to where I am now.
I remember being really stressed in university about “what to do” afterward, and wondering if there was a magic formula that could lead me into some well-accepted field, such as finance.
It turns out, it’s really hard to tell if you like something unless you try it out for yourself. “Try before you buy.” We do this for clothes; why don’t we do this more often for something much more life-changing like our careers?
I studied and passed the CFA Level 1 exam (a well-known financial certification) in 6 weeks. However, during in the process, I found that I didn’t see myself working full time in finance at all. Thankfully it wasn’t a complete waste of time - the information helped me understand the financial industry, which is a pretty intimidating beast.
In contrast to the CFA exam, which I took because it seemed like a straight line to an accepted industry, I only started programming for fun, without any expectation that it could lead to any career at all.
So the first piece of advice here, is to experiment a bit, and wander around a bit.
There’s no 100% straight and direct way to do something, or become something. By trying things out, you’ll be better at narrowing down what you like to do, and also what you’re good at.
If you’re interested in tech now, it’s definitely helpful to try out different flavours - perhaps you like web development more than data science or vice versa, and you might be able to figure that out before you’re 5 years into university, or a career.
Hackathons and side projects are great ways to do that type of experimentation.
The second piece of advice is that it’s almost never “too late” to make a different decision.
I’ve mentioned before that I started learning programming only in my 3rd year of university, and on top of that, I didn’t choose a university major that is a “straight line” into tech. If that wasn’t too late for me, it won’t be too late for you. And I know many people that pivoted to different fields way later after graduation.
Were there any role models for you during your middle school and high school career? How did they help shape you into who you are today?
I didn’t really have role models in tech in my middle and high school years.
I knew of software as an industry, mainly from the games subset of it, but at the time I didn’t really know the famous people behind the games; I just played them. It’s kind of like how many people watch movies, without necessarily knowing the director’s names, or what other movies the same directors have made.
The people that inspired me at the time were people successful in other types of industries, such as singers (perhaps typical as a teen), including Lady Gaga.
Seeing a prominent figure in media that followed her artistic intent, regardless of media backlash, left a strong impression on me. It allowed me to push back against strong societal expectations of what was “acceptable” to study, and what were “good” careers with a pension being the end goal.
If I didn’t have that courage to be myself, I probably would have succumbed to the many “suggestions” to go into a traditional career like (medicine/law/accounting). Some people love it, but it wasn’t for me.
So many young people around me at the time had this pressure as well, causing them to study something they hated day after day, and it pains me to see myself in them at the time.
All of this to say - it does take a bit of courage to walk a non-linear path, but following your curiosity and testing different topics out, is a good way to figure out the intersection of what you love to do, and what you’re good at.
This is a lighter post about much earlier origins than the usual posts about my data science career and video game studio. I hope it was informational, and perhaps entertaining as well!