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December 15, 2016

Why Today’s Teens Should Become Tomorrow’s Technologists

By Charles Eaton

My last post defined the term “technologist,” a label that applies to people working in companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries – not just those that write software and make hardware. I explained that, while technologists have diverse interests and multifaceted personalities, most share five traits:
  • A Technologist Thinks Strategy First
  • A Technologist Is Curious and Has a Passion for Solving Problems
  • A Technologist Sees Technology in a Constructive Context
  • A Technologist Believes Tech Is about Humans, not Hardware or Software
  • A Technologist Values Respect, Cooperation and Collaboration
Based on this core set of qualities, I believe today’s teens are suited to become tomorrow’s technologists. Why? Because we asked them what they really want for their future careers in our /researching-solutions/teen-views-on-tech-careers">“Teen Views on Tech Careers” report, and I feel, on the whole, their answers align well with the personality of a technologist. To elaborate, here’s my interpretation of our study results in terms a technologist’s talents:
  • “Strategy First”
    My preferred definition of “strategy” is a “plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim,” and I believe technologists favor strategies – i.e., plans or policies designed to achieve broad goals -- before tactics – i.e., actions and activities implemented to achieve specific objectives. I see this sort of “step back and plan before taking action” attitude among teens participating in our research. When asked to pick from a list of 60 categories the careers that interest them most, teens put professions such as “business owner,” “civil engineer,” “lawyer” and “architect” in the top 10. Yes, classic tech titles such as “software programmer” and “computer technician” ranked high, too. But overall, most of the occupations most interesting to young people involved putting technology to work rather than working to create technology.
  • “Passion for Solving Problems”
    Roughly eight in 10 teens in our study responded that they would be motivated to learn more about IT programs if “it involved helping to solve a problem in their school.” About the same proportion said they would be motivated if “it involved helping to solve a problem in their community.” Those results speak for themselves.
  • “Constructive Context”
    Most teens (78 percent) in our survey said “learning new things all the time” and “helping other people” would be important to their future careers. To me, these answers suggests young people value technology largely for its benefit to others rather than just for its impact on their own personal or professional lives.
  • “Humans, not Hardware” and “Respect, Cooperation and Collaboration”
    In addition to the high numbers of teens surveyed who expressed a desire to solve problems for their schools and communities, a great many respondents said “helping parents” would motivate them in their careers. These results suggest to me that young people today do indeed have perspective beyond the gadgetry that surrounds them and a sense of their place in the larger society.
From my vantage point as a professional, parent and technologist myself, I believe teens are destined to close the tech skills gap for us. But there are some myths about tech careers that could bump them off course. So, as a strong start to my 2017 blogging, I plan to debunk those myths. Watch this space for more.