A Retroactively Paved Path to Working in Tech

September 19, 2017 Benevity, Inc

Two of Benevity’s own sit down to talk tech and their experiences in the space

Employee engagement and tech literacy are featuring more and more heavily as topics du jour. As a tech company we want to add some unique perspectives to the conversations whenever possible. We think now is second only to yesterday as the best time to start getting some of our in-house tech talent to sound off on some topics close to their hearts.

Armed with nothing but a few leading questions, Rosemary Sanchez, a People Leader for Benevity’s Web Software Development team and Bailey Copithorne, a User Experience Designer, got cracking on coding and unintentionally answer the age-old question “What happens when a user experience (UX) designer and a software developer walk into a room?” Apparently, an average of one high-five every 20 minutes.

What sticks out for you as the biggest challenges when you entered the tech space?

I remember when I was choosing my major and minor as a naïve 17-year-old who had (so far) naturally excelled in school. I decided to pursue computer science because I felt that math wasn’t a strength of mine and I wanted it to be. Confusing logic, I know. But it was, after all, during the dot com bubble so the timing might make more sense to most than the logic. Effectively, my own adolescent sense of invincibility was mirrored by the tech world and I thought I could make solid money as soon as I graduated. So in a literal sense, math was the first challenge that I had to overcome. Post-secondary hit me hard with abstract math’s complexities and the arcane programming languages dealt some seemingly fatal blows in the form of the first C's of my life. 

It’s actually interesting to me that you chose to focus on the school portion. For me, my biggest challenge was coming out of school armed with a lot of technical skills and varied interests without a clue of how to apply any of it to a working machine or existing company. Getting a foot in the door in “The Industry” can be a challenge. School was something of a safety net and without it things can get pretty intimidating. I struggled with the “I’m a junior” complex, often feeling like my ideas weren’t good enough or worth contributing because my age and lack of experience invalidated them. 

What advice would you give people looking to get into “The Industry?"

I think it’s incredibly valuable to really do the work and research. There are so many resources available online and through social media. I would also encourage people to get active in attending meetups, conferences, events, and just network. Sometimes a simple conversation can spark something so much bigger.

I definitely agree with Bailey’s points. I would also encourage anyone suffering from “Imposter Syndrome” to reach out to people with their fears and feelings. Reaching out for help and advice will benefit you, but there’s also a ripple effect because people even just slightly more established will be amazing to talk to and see how much they’ve actually learned and improved since they were just starting out.

Exactly! Seek mentorship from supportive people in the space, have the humility to say “I don’t know” and a zest for continued learning and you’re on your way!

What are some things you’ve learned on the job so far?

Even as a software developer, I’m consistently reminded of how many aspects of my job are so similar to other unrelated professions. I feel like a detective when I am keeping track of details and coming up with theories, or a doctor when I’m determining the best course of action or treatment, and sometimes I’m an architect taking pride in the resiliency and structural integrity of what I create.

Participating in tech is so much more than this, it’s about having the desire to understand the abstract and contribute to problem-solving efforts.

In my working life, I can get caught up in tech-speak, trying to be as precise, efficient and valuable as possible. Luckily, I have the opportunity to interact with young up-and-comers in the space on a regular basis. Without fail, my interactions with these young individuals who don’t have all of the training, background or technical insight brings me back down to earth and reminds me of the human aspect of my work – which is what my working purpose is based on: I work in technology because I love to keep learning and I love building things that make other’s lives better.

What are some misconceptions about working in tech that you’d like to squash?

That it’s not just sitting at a computer writing code. Participating in tech is so much more than this—it’s about having the desire to understand the abstract and contribute to problem-solving efforts. Despite the prevalent stereotype that it attracts introverts who might otherwise become loners, tech is actually very much a team space that is inclusive of a variety of skills, strengths and personality types.  

How would you go about addressing the idea of tech literacy?

Well, firstly I would look at the perception that younger generations in isolated parts of the world are more suited to adapt to changes in technology since they are so immersed in it so young. It’s important to remember that behind all advances in technology are the people who understood someone else and their needs enough to plan for and cater to them. In this way, I believe that empathy is a massive component of tech literacy and one’s capability for achieving it. At a fundamental level, we have the power to solve problems with tech by being human.

If we ever design robots capable of feeling empathy, then our careers as problem solvers are really at risk!

I think of the human element as well. For me, it makes it a lot easier to make sense of tech when you realize that it’s all human-made. It’s unnatural and can be counterintuitive and challenging because humans are these things as well. If you keep this in mind when you encounter your first roadblock or struggle, I really think you’ll have greater success. 

Absolutely, Rosemary. If we ever design robots capable of feeling empathy, then our careers as problem solvers are really at risk!

There are also massive ups and downs to learning technology. Sometimes you will feel like a wizard bending things to your will right before feeling like a bumbling neophyte struggling with things that you think should be obvious. It’s also encouraging to keep in mind that the tech space is vast, so much so that no one person can be an expert in all of it. 

Until Next Time

And there you have it, the very tip of one of the icebergs with Bailey and Rosemary. While we can limit the length of this blog, it has become apparent that we can’t stop their gears from turning and definitely don’t want to. There are clearly a lot of misconceptions about what it means to work in tech and a lot of insight to be gleaned from those currently working in the space about what it takes to stay successful and motivated. Stay tuned for more musings from these tech mavens in the months to come.

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Bailey Copithorne is a User Experience (UX) Designer at Benevity. She teaches Intro to Web Design for third-year students at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) and is herself a lifelong student of languages, having tackled many of the romance tongues already. Bailey is a gifted artist across traditional and digital mediums, but painting occupies a special corner of her heart.  She holds firm to the belief that people shouldn't be jerks, and asserts that through sharing love, food and the love of food, we can all affect positive change in the world!

Rosemary Sanchez is a Web Software Developer People Lead and a certified Scrum Master for her team at Benevity. She puts her talents to good use outside the office by mentoring and volunteering within the local tech community. Rosemary shares her knowledge and expertise through Ladies Learning Code, Chic Geek, and teaching information computer technology at the University of Calgary.  A problem-solver who uses both code and communication to get the job done, she is also a firm advocate of entrepreneurship, learning and inclusiveness in all of its forms.

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