Students gain insights into computer-related careers during Hour of Code

Tech pros tell students job opportunities are plentiful.

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Look for something you love to do, and know that technology has a niche in virtually every field.

That was the bottom-line message from professionals working in computer-related jobs who spoke virtually with AAPS students during the annual Hour of Code—a worldwide effort to demystify computer coding and broaden participation in the field of computer science.

Though offered on a much smaller scale than in years past, the event allowed students from 12 classes at Huron High School and Forsythe and Tappan middle schools to meet virtually with 20 local professionals.

Huron junior Eli Wiegman said he found it very helpful to hear from those in the computer science industry.

Eli Wiegman asks a question of computer science professionals.

“And it certainly got me excited about pursuing a purely computer science-related career, despite it already being my plan,” he said. “The panelists seemed enthusiastic and knowledgeable and I’m glad I attended. I have a better idea of what a job in the programming field would look like as well as the path to employment.”

Students learned that as a result of the pandemic, employers are much more flexible about where employees work and the hours they keep as long as they’re productive, said Huron math teacher Sara Gadwa, referring to her 36 students who participated in Hour of Code. They also learned that nearly every field has a need for technology specialists, even if it doesn’t seem obvious, she said.

“With this Hour of Code career panel, students not only got insight into the world of technology, but they also got great advice, encouragement, inspiration, and knowledge about careers in general,” said Gadwa. “The technology world is ever-changing and no matter what subject they like, they can always find a possible career path into technology. The panel was fantastic and had so many great things to say. Students really enjoyed listening to their stories and familiarity with the tech world.” 

Huron technology teacher Sara Gadwa leads an Hour of Code meeting.

Gadwa noted that more than half of the speakers were women, and she thanked them for paving the way for females.

Lily Lee, technology manager of tax and accounting professionals at Thomson Reuters, said that the message she always gives students is that no matter the subject they’re interested in, there’s a career in technology for them.

“Find out what it is you truly love to do, that you’re interested in, then add technology to it because technology is everywhere, in every industry,” she added. “Whether you’re in medicine, machinery, whatever it is, there’s always something with technology.”

Community High School alum Peter Schwankl now works in software packaging and tool development at the University of Michigan for the managed desktop environment.

He noted that imposter syndrome is a real thing that never quite goes away. But he said it’s critical to never try to be the smartest person in the room.

“You’ll learn the most being in a room with people smarter than you are,” he said. “As soon as you stop learning, where are you?”

Huron High School computer science teacher Kevin Behmer said the Hour of Code was great for several reasons.

“First, just having students hear that what they are learning in the coursework will definitely extend into the workforce is reassuring for both them and me,” said Behmer, whose Hour of Code included students from all three of his computer science courses. “Second, we were able to hear from a range of experiences.  And finally, I think a major takeaway was that making mistakes is part of the process and doesn’t go away even when you have been programming for a long time.  And it is that struggle might be both the best and toughest part of it all.”

Behmer said he hopes students especially you are out in ‘the real world’ not everything works out quickly, or even works out and despite that, the process is both important and worth it. 

“That is how we learn—by struggle and persistence, advocating and communicating for assistance to eventually overcome that struggle, only to move on to the next one,” he said.

Washtenaw Community College computer science teacher Jing Bai told Behmer’s students that she was excited to see so many young people interested in careers in computer programming.

She said it’s important to be passionate about computer science or anything computer-related because it’s not something you learn just once and move on.

“You will need to always, always feel excited about what you’re doing,” she said, noting that the learning curve is constant.

She said the Number One skill employers are looking for is the ability to work well with others.

“Nobody can work solo in this world,” she said, noting that coding skills are expected, but working well with a team is essential.

Jing Bai talks to students during Hour of Code.

This year’s volunteer panelists work at Atomic Object; the University of Michigan; May Mobility, Inc.; Thomson Reuters; U-M HITS Service Desk; Duo Security; Washtenaw Community College; Dental Informatics; and Quantum Signal A1.

Community High alum Dylan Goings told students his career has included a variety of roles in technology at Atomic Object in downtown Ann Arbor, where he recruits recent college graduates.

Dylan Goings talks to Huron students.

“Hopefully one of you will eventually be on my doorstep in four years applying for a job and maybe we’ll be hiring you,” said Goings, who recruits new college graduates. “That would be awesome.”

Goings suggested students find internships in which the employers will push them to work on a team in order to get that experience.

If you love creative problem-solving tasks, you’ll love being a programmer, he told students, noting that an affinity for math is not required.

People have no idea how accessible and available a job in computer programming is, and how in demand, he said, adding that everybody he interviews who is worth hiring has multiple job offers.

Huron technology teacher Kevin Behmer leads the Zoom meeting with students and professionals.

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