Student walking down a foggy sidewalk

Choosing A Path: Students Get Advice From Tech Professionals

Monday, December 21, 2015

Do you remember your junior and senior year in High School? It may have been fun, but it may have been pretty stressful, too. With the excitement that comes from starting a new chapter in your life is the fear of starting a new chapter in your life. At some point, every student realizes – this is it. Childhood is over, and now everyone expects you to decide what you want to do. Lost in a sea of college applications, job searches and essays, the well-meant question from friends and family adds increasing pressure – ‘So…what are your plans?'

            So many kids leave high school with no clue of what they really want to do. Or, maybe they have big dreams but just aren’t sure how to attain them. Either way, it can be tricky being launched into the real world when you’re a kid used to the comfort of your structured high school life. When you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, or how you’ll get there, how could you possibly know where to start? For students interest in the tech field, it’s even more overwhelming. There’s so much to learn! How do you avoid the frustration of not knowing everything, of constantly having to keep up without giving up?

            Those were some of the questions addressed at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) in Brattleboro, VT this past week. When being faced with life-altering decisions, good advice has great value. At BUHS, students interested in the tech field were able to get advice from three successful professionals in the field. One of them was our own president of Interval Technology Partners, Aaron Lamontagne. Together with Rich Gallop, executive producer at Disruptor Beam, a video game development company and Robert Wickberg, the technology coordinator at BHUS, Aaron offered professional advice to about 30 students considering a career in technology. You can read the full article published in the Brattleboro Reformer here. What were some of the highlights?

Be Willing to Learn Adaptively

            The tech world never stops. There is an increasing amount of things to learn. It can be overwhelming, and it’s hard work. Sometimes, you may need to learn things you don’t particularly like. You may feel like the field you’re pursuing requires an enormous skill set, that it's just impossible to know all there is to know. Skills are important. But so is the right mindset. Take some advice from Aaron:

“You have to not only learn the skills, but also have to have the ability to look at situations and say ‘yeah, I’m going to invest some time into this, because I think this could pay off for me down the road.”

            Take advantage of opportunities to learn. Be able to analyze situations outside of your current skill set, and see what you can learn. Aaron encouraged kids to find a niche, a specialized field that they really could fall into. But is that it? Rich Gallup added:

“Yes, it’s good to specialize, but you can’t stand still.”

            If you stand still, everything else will move on without you.  And having people around you that are ready to adapt is important too. He offered some great advice on developing a good team in such a fast-paced business,

“Technology is always changing, and when you’re looking for people on your team, you generally want people who can adapt to the changing technology.”

First takeaway: Recognize you’re not going to know everything, but always be ready to learn something new and adapt.

It’s Hard Work, But You Don’t Have to Hate It

            I loved the advice form Robert Wickberg. So often, when you learn something new, there is a period of time when you just feel like giving up, especially when what you're learning doesn't interest you. Some students may look into the horizon of a new job or college and see something cloudy and dismal -- they may feel that they have to do something they don't particularily like in order to make money. One BUHS senior raised the question “You can never know everything there is to know about computers, isn’t that frustrating?” Such a good question! Because, as mentioned before, the tech world never stops, and jumping into an ever-growing business world that’s already insanely complex sounds like it could be very frustrating to someone who is just starting out. According to Wickberg, it’s about focus and doing what you love:

“I think if you’re in the right field you’ll find it challenging, but not frustrating. Ideally, when you’re searching for a career, find something you like to do, and then figure out a way to make money doing it so that that internal reward of doing what you love comes first, and then the money comes along afterward.”

            There's a difference between something that's challenging and something that's frustrating. And it doesn't necessarily have to do with the difficulty of the field. Even if it's hard, if it's something you want, you'll accept the challenge because you know the result will be rewarding. It becomes frustrating when you're not getting, as Wickberg brought out, an interal reward. Sometimes you might have to just work and work, perhaps even doing work for free to get the skills that you need or build a portfolio, and establish yourself. But if it's something you love you'll want to work until you're really good at it -- and the reward will be not only inner satisfaction, but also a profession that can make you money.

Takeaway two: Yeah, if you hate what you’re doing, it’s going to be frustrating. Try to do what you love, even if it means not making money right away. In the long run, it will pay off.

Don’t Let Others Set Your Direction

            When you’ve set your sights on something, it can be incredibly discouraging to have someone tell you that you can’t. At first, it might make you angry. But underneath that, your dream might become tainted with doubt. Albeit, sometimes someone is just giving you their honest opinion, or telling you that the road is going to be pretty rocky. A student related what one game developer had said on a college visit, "She basically told us to our faces, don’t go into video games.”

            Not very encouraging. But how did successful game developer Rich Gallup respond?

“I would take that as a challenge, don’t take that as a direction.”

            There will always be people that tell you you can’t do something. But that shouldn’t necessarily change your whole direction. If someone is saying you can’t, they’re saying it’s going to be hard, and you might not make it. But if you’re confident and passionate about what you want to do, you might just make it work.

The third takeaway: Try not to fear failure. Accept that what you want to do may be challenging, but that doesn’t make it impossible. If you know what direction you want to take, stick with it.

            It’s amazing how much time and frustration a few words of wisdom can save. Even more amazing is the little boost of encouragement they can give. If you're prepared for the challenges, you'll better know how to face them. To see someone being successful at what you want to do shows you that it’s possible.  And when you’re venturing into the unknown, that might be just enough to keep you going.