Inspiring Success

A blog from Creating IT Futures

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July 11, 2018

A Celebration of Success…and then Some

By Tom Liszka

Earlier this year, as part of its NextUp initiative to interest teens in tech careers, CompTIA partnered with the Technology Student Association (TSA) to expand STEM opportunities, competitions and leadership development.


Soon after the partnership was announced, Colorado, my current home, hosted their annual TSA State Conference. With ultimate plans of attending the national event, I made the journey south of Denver to get a feel for a state-level competition. In my recap blog of the event, I mentioned that you would need at least three full days to see everything. Well, the national event spans five days, so I’m pretty sure you would need a full week (if not more!) to check everything out. And boy, there was a lot of checking out to do! At a conference packed with young individuals full of creativity and an eye on the future, all in the name of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) education, here are some of my highlights… 


The Keynote

I arrived an hour early and positioned myself in front of the exhibit hall doors, which were scheduled to open an hour before the session. Everyone is familiar with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, right? Every country is announced and gets to walk around the track, proudly waving their homeland flag. Picture this, except it’s state by state (or country-by-country for the international TSA chapters, Germany and Turkey). It was very cool to witness as thousands of students in a sea of blue (the official TSA shirt color) came down the escalators and into the exhibit hall.

Todd Thibodeaux
Todd Thibodeaux


The TSA student officers kicked off the conference, recognizing the conference’s 40th anniversary before introducing keynote speaker Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA…and the guy who signs my checks. 


Todd began his presentation much like he begins our quarterly all staff meetings: with prizes! In a random drawing, Todd selected five schools, each who received a $10K tech shopping spree from CompTIA. How cool! What a guy! What an organization! 


He followed that up with his journey into tech, starting with a few nostalgic slides as he shared how his love for technology grew throughout his childhood. Lincoln Logs, Erector sets, Tom Swift books and even a washing machine gave Todd the hands-on learning he wanted. However, his journey into technology was never a foregone conclusion.


He began his career as a welder after high school, but quickly changed paths and went to college – five different ones to be exact! After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, Todd found himself at a technology association, which set the stage for where he’s at today. To close, he shared with the students some personal touches as they set foot in their STEAM careers, which included:

  1. It’s okay to be lost sometimes,
  2. Where you go to college doesn’t matter in the long run,
  3. Less activities, more part-time jobs,
  4. Above all else, figure out what you’re good at, and…
  5. Never give up on yourself. Ever.

You can view the entire opening general session here.


Special Interest Session: Learning the Lesson of the Chair

I popped into a special interest session, Learning the Lesson of the Chair, led by Eric Larson, senior director of IT Futures Labs for Creating IT Futures. The focus of Larson’s session was how you can position yourself for becoming successful in furthering your education in the workplace by knowing how humans operate. 


He also brought up the lesson of the chair, which I will (hopefully) help you understand: The chair does not represent you. You will need to learn to separate the criticism of the chair from the criticism of you and your work ethic. Basically, if you make a wobbly chair that does not mean you didn’t work hard on building it.


A session that was geared for those who have high ambitions for their future who don’t want anything to hold them back was well attended and received plenty of student-led participation.


Special Interest Session: Success in the Tech Economy

I moved on to another special interest session, Success in the Tech Economy, presented by Brian Matzelle, senior manager of skills certification for CompTIA. As the digital world is quickly expanding, it is creating IT jobs and openings faster than the right people can be found to fill them.

Brian Matzelle
Brian Matzelle


Matzelle explained how CompTIA certifications can be the launching pad for a career in IT, highlighted by a slide showing the difference in median salaries between IT occupations and non-IT occupations (IT occupations deliver more than 2x the median salary of non-IT jobs).


He went on to review benefits of a certified IT individual on staff, which included more production, more insightful problem solving, better project management skills, and better communication skills. From the perspective of an employer, Matzelle provided the following statistics:

  1. 90% agree IT-certified individuals are more likely to be promoted than those without IT certifications.
  2. 89% think IT-certified individuals tend to perform better than non-IT-certified individuals in similar job roles.
  3. 89% believe certified employees are more likely to stay with their organization than non-certified IT staff.
  4. 88% say that IT-certified employees are rewarded (bonus and pay increase) for obtaining IT certifications)


Special Interest Session: Set Your Sights High – Drones and Our Aerial Future

This was one of the more anticipated special interest sessions because, well, drones are cool! However, I quickly realized how little I knew about drone technology. Presented by Douglas Spotted Eagle, director of commercial sales/product development for Sundance Media Group, and a member of the new CompTIA Drone Advisory Council, the session covered the ways drones are offering individuals and businesses new ways of looking at the world, solving problems, and getting business done. From agriculture to entertainment, construction to first responders, many industries across the board are looking at this game-changing technology.

Fun with drone technology
Fun with drone technology


While the TSA students were on the edge of their seat waiting for Douglas to power on his drone (FYI, he didn’t because there are regulations on operating a drone indoors, which again, I did not know), he shared many tidbits of his career and how drones played an important role. In one instance, he was the lead drone operator for a Bud Light commercial. In another, he operated a drone that was used to capture an action scene in one of the Daniel Craig starred James Bond movies. More recently, he assisted the Las Vegas Police Department in surveying the crime scene for the horrific events on October 1, 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival.


Drones are being used everywhere and TSA students walked away with many different avenues for how they might be working with them in the future.


Student Competitions

The conference featured on-site tech competitions – a big draw for students who have been preparing and competing at the state level in preparation for these events. More than 60 tech-focused competitions range from subjects such as architecture, animation, fashion design and video game design to engineering, essay writing, forensic technology and a whole lot more!

The competitions challenge students to use and improve their technical skills in both team and individual events. All competitions are aligned with STEM standards; the 10 core leadership skills (communication, creative thinking, critical thinking, decision making, ethics, evaluation, organization, problem solving, self-esteem and teamwork); and give students hands-on experience in a variety of technical careers.

Fashion Design and Technology Competition

His and hers Pacman attire
His and hers Pacman attire


I found myself walking past the conference room where fashion design and technology was being hosted. I checked out the American History themed fashion design competition during the Colorado state conference, so I decided to head inside to see what creativity followed to the national event’s theme – the 1980s. For a quick overview: teams compete in an on-site event in which they present their potential designs, explaining the significance of the fashion items in the period and place they studied.


One collection that I was blown away by was the Pacman collection. Yes, that’s right. A his and hers Pacman themed suit and dress. The back of the suit was accompanied by a mini-jumbotron of sorts, perhaps powered by a Raspberry Pi, but that’s only an assumption based on my experience with the mini-jumbotron challenge through our FUSE partnership, but that’s an entirely different blog. Fascinating!


Want to Get Involved?

Volunteers who want to work more at the state level should contact their local TSA leaders. All state TSA websites are listed here.