By Charles Eaton
The following are updated excerpts from "How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent's Guide to the T In STEM Education" by Charles Eaton, published by Cool Blue Media.
Technology is the T in “STEM,” an acronym you’ve probably seen quite a bit as schools focus on science, technology, engineering and math classes. Technology fits nicely in the STEM collection, but it also stands on its own as a broad category of learning and skills that can appeal to a wide variety of student interests.
Technology is not just a field for the brilliant and computer-obsessed; it’s for anyone who likes to see how things work and wants to follow a problem to a logical conclusion.
Too many of us default to the mantra of “get into college” with the hope that the light bulb will turn on for our kids before they graduate and move back home with us. But with the high costs of a four-year college education and the increasing number of alternative learning opportunities, such as online schools, community colleges and boot camp-style programs available at more reasonable prices, you should help your children find a path before they graduate high school. The good news is that there are more opportunities than ever for young people to explore tech careers.
The objective of this article is to give parents of tweens and teens—from middle school through high school—an idea of what a technology career is really like, and how working in technology can be easier than you and your kids may think. As we did in a previous article, we’ll bust some of the lingering myths about technology and show you an industry bursting with job opportunities perfect for eager students looking for careers that will dominate the economy in coming years.
Myth: To Work in Technology, You Need a Four-Year College Degree
“In the world of technology, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said former IT teacher Eric Berngen. “Technology is not a destination. It’s about a journey.”
There’s more than one path to begin that journey because learning enough about technology to get a job can happen pretty quickly. Many tech companies have publicly said they now prioritize skills over degrees in IT occupations and just 22% of IT support specialist job openings from April 2022 through March 2023 required a bachelor’s degree, according to Lightcast.
A student can understand the underpinnings of technology and start troubleshooting problems or writing code after one introductory class, no matter at what age they start learning. The truth is that many people land a job in tech with just some basic training and a certification.
There’s also the more traditional route of earning a computer science or information management degree, which 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 durable skills can help prepare young people for working in large organizations or small startup 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. And there’s a large world of tech bootcamps operated by private entities that are helping students find their way into a software development or user design career in just a few months (even if they majored in English like me).
Technology moves quickly, and neither a four-year degree nor a certain set of certifications is a guarantee of success. Like any journey, the keys to pursuing a successful technology career are watching for bumps in the road without losing sight of the horizon, continually moving forward without wearing out, and, above all, 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.
“In technology, you’re constantly learning and everything is constantly changing,” Berngen said. “Nothing stays the same.”
Myth: A Tech Career Means Being Stuck at a Desk
Technology connects us globally, and the industry is growing all over the world. There are plenty of tech jobs that don’t require you to be chained to a desk.
Chicago-based artist, agent, writer and independent curator Jenny Lam has used 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 installation.
An extension of her own creative outlets, Lam posts about the artists she represents, the exhibitions she curates and her art adventures around the globe. Art-related topics come up at local, national and international levels; her blog brings the world to her local readers, while making her surroundings more accessible to a global audience.
She’s more than just a technology user, though, smartly using social media tools to position herself and her clients in the local press and dipping into other sites as a guest blogger and featured Instagram photographer.
“I like how instant it all is and how you can be connected to people around the world all at once,” Lam said.
MYTH: Money Is the Main Benefit of a Tech Job
It’s true, technology jobs pay well, offering salaries significantly higher than the national average of all occupations. Unemployment in tech is low, and the future of tech professions looks good. CompTIA’s annual State of the Tech Workforce report reveals that net tech employment grew by 3.2% nationally in 2022, with an estimated increase of 286,400 new workers employed in technology. CompTIA also forecasts a 3% increase—more than 272,000 new jobs—in tech employment for 2023. However, what we’ve learned at CompTIA Spark is that money doesn’t drive everyone. 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.
Teens, too, want to help others and always be learning, according to CompTIA’s Student Perspectives on Technology and Careers survey. Purpose and using tech to solve problems was at the top of students’ positive perceptions of working in tech (48%)—even more than that it pays well (45%) or that it’s fun, interesting work (36%).
Take Lakecia Gunter, who founded the Committee on Black Excellence at her high school. Lakecia received a computer at age 11, and later she used it to lobby teachers and other leaders at her school to find alternatives to suspending struggling students. Today, Lakecia is the vice president of device partner solution sales at Microsoft.
Like many adults, teenagers 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.
Charles Eaton is CEO of CompTIA Spark.