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.
Despite all the benefits of working in the tech industry or a tech job, the word “technology” still alienates some people. We find that most people who are wary of technology careers have preconceived ideas about what it means. Some feel technology is too challenging, while others feel manipulating server racks would be so dull their eyes would glaze over. There’s the view that pursuing a career in tech means you must be a recluse, sitting alone all day in a home or office tapping out obscure computer code. Some students believe that you must be a genius to understand and work with technology.
Let’s face it: The image of the computer nerd is ingrained firmly in our society, and there are several studies that show those stereotypes are still strong in the minds of younger people, especially young women. A University of Washington study found that media representations of the “stereotypical computer scientist” can be perceived as a “barrier to inclusion” by women.1
To dispel these misconceptions, I turned to experts such as Eric Berngen, who worked as a teacher and technology department chair at an early college STEM school, Sarah E. Goode High School in Chicago. Every year, he introduced the idea of technology to kids and parents who felt a little apprehensive about the subject.
“Technology is hard—that’s a myth,” said Berngen, going on to point out more misconceptions. “To learn technology, you have to be really good at math, or if you do it, you’re a geek. I don’t think that’s true at all.”
Technology is great for kids who like to find out how things work through tinkering and exploration. Technology is best learned when it’s hands-on. “Technology is a lot more about logic,” Berngen said. “Do you understand the logic behind why things are behaving a certain way? Technologists break it down from a logical aspect.”
Still feeling apprehensive? Before I go any further, let’s dispel some more myths about technology and tech careers.
Myth: Technology Is All About Coding and Math
Resourcefulness and common sense are more important to future success in a technology career than excelling in math and science, and there still are more jobs in tech infrastructure — working with hardware, networks, servers and desktops — than in coding. In fact, data from CompTIA’s State of the Tech Workforce 2023 report shows that software developers and engineers account for just 27% of U.S. tech employment positions.
I know, if you’ve read the news headlines in the last few years, you’d think the only thing you should be doing is making sure your kid knows how to code or train an artificial intelligence. The tech entrepreneur success stories always seem to revolve around software and coding. The starting salaries for web and software developers are very high. Code.org has done a brilliant job of getting their Hour of Code into schools, and coding-focused youth groups are widespread as after school programs. Those are all terrific developments that will help drive more young people into tech careers, but they could also discourage some kids for whom coding isn’t easy, accessible or interesting.
There’s more to tech jobs than just coding. As more business, classrooms and household devices connect to the internet, as smart phones become ubiquitous and as more data is gathered and needs to be protected and understood, there will be plenty of jobs in related fields — including technicians, network specialists, cybersecurity professionals and data analysts, as well as salespeople, marketing professionals and project managers.
The ability to listen, communicate and present new ideas is essential to succeed in technology. We refer to these as durable skills or soft skills, but there’s nothing soft about them. They are the foundation of success in technology and include skills such as conflict management, growth mindset and entrepreneurship.
While good grades are often important for opening up future opportunities, they don’t tell the whole story about any student. Curiosity and motivation are more important than an impressive report card. The outlook for students in the academic middle — those who earn a respectable B or C in most classes and understand how to solve problems in the real world — is bright given the right training, encouragement and role models.
Access to tech classes in school should not be dependent on how well one does in math. Every high school should showcase opportunities to learn and work with technology that are broader than computer science classes that are purely about computational thinking, or classes that simply teach students how to use PowerPoint and Word.
Myth: If it’s Not at Facebook or Google, it’s Not a Technology Job
Technology has disrupted some big industries, such as hotels (Airbnb) and taxi service (Uber and Lyft) and is one of the most important factors driving the global economy.
But if you don’t live in Silicon Valley, can you still work in technology? Of course. Despite their differences on the surface, 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, there are IT careers in almost every organization around the globe. About 42% of U.S. tech professionals work for technology companies according to CompTIA's State of the Tech Workforce 2023 report, while the remaining 58% are employed by organizations across other industry sectors.
“Technology is not just at big companies,” said Amy Kardel, who co-founded Clever Ducks, an information management company in rural California, where she says there are more cows than surfers.
Net tech employment in the U.S., which includes tech workers at all companies and also business professionals working at tech companies, reached an estimated 9,156,390 workers in 2022, an increase of 3.2% year-over-year or approximately 286,400 additional workers employed in technology, according to CompTIA's State of the Tech Workforce.
“Technology is at little companies like ours, and there are companies like ours all over the country — all over the world,” said Kardel. There are thousands of jobs available at innovative companies, large and small, and plenty of places to work no matter where you live. As technology advances and telecommuting becomes more popular, the opportunities will multiply.
It’s like I told my youngest child, Shane. Shane wanted to be an NBA player when he was younger. Despite being named after Duke great and NBA champion Shane Battier, the odds are against my little guy. He’s not likely to be over 6 feet tall. His mom and I aren’t elite athletes. And while he’s got a nice jumpshot, there are only about 500 current NBA players. I hope he has the drive, desire and luck to make it, but trust me, we’ll have a backup plan.
Part of that plan is to encourage him to think about all the different ways he might work in sports, especially with technology. He could be a technologist working on data analytics for an NBA coaching staff to help find the best defensive scheme for their players. He could be in broadcasting. Shane might even design the next app to track college basketball scores. We’re a long way from having this be a substantive conversation, but I want to encourage his passion for basketball to be broader, so it doesn’t just fade away when he realizes he won’t be a pro player. Think about how you could connect your child’s passions to technology.
And speaking of passion, I’ve never liked the advice to “follow one’s passion.” That advice fails to acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that enjoying your work can be as connected to doing something well as it is to the field of your occupation. We all enjoy being recognized for being good at something, no matter what that is.
My early passions were technology and movies. I wanted to be a screen writer when I was in college. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t have anything that important to say or the discipline to write consistently enough to find a story that would make a good movie.
Instead, I focused on my strengths—problem solving and leadership—and found my calling in the nonprofit world. I am still connected to the tech industry through my work, and movies continue to be a nice hobby and distraction. There can be lots of ways to connect one’s passions to meaningful and fulfilling work.
Charles Eaton is CEO of CompTIA Spark.
Unlock your students’ potential through technology.