Friday, September 14, 2018

Degree Dead End?

I've been teaching part-time at SAIT since 2005.

Around 2009 I was teaching an Introduction to C# course to a full class of 'fast-track' students. We had just finished an intense exercise and so I thought I could give the students a mental break with some ad-libbing and expound on the importance of good soft-skills and a positive attitude in the IT industry.  One of the students at the back of the class (I'll call him 'Tom') interrupted me mid-sentence and challenged me
The front entrance of Heritage Hall at SAIT
The main entrance to Heritage Hall at SAIT
on attitude:

"How do you think someone like me feels?  I just finished a computer science degree and no one wanted to hire me!  There were no jobs!  I had to come here and pay more tuition to become marketable in the field... And now the economy has downturned!  How can I have a good attitude??"

Everyone had been looking at Tom during his outburst.  He was one of the better students in the class and some of them knew his history.  He had their respect and their empathy.  Now they turned to face me en-mass to see how I'd respond.

I reached for a glass of water, took a sip, and dove in...

"I hear ya, Tom.  I got my start in the IT field in a course just like this one - fast-track, 9 months of training where I went from knowing virtually no code to being ready for an IT coding job.  Listen to my story..."

I proceeded to tell the class the story of my career change into IT and the challenges I had (you can read about it here).   After regaling them with my tale and convincing them that I had as much reason be have a bad attitude as Tom, I encouraged them all to keep their chins up and actively find ways to stay motivated and persistent in their job search.

It was a moment as an instructor that I won't forget.  A challenge from the class,  I tried to sincerely respond, and then...  I have wait and see what happens - if anything.  Often there isn't much feedback in these situations and it seems like my heartfelt words fall into into a void.  I cling to a hope that some of the students take what I say to heart.

~      ~      ~

Fast-forward almost a year.

I was walking in downtown Calgary to catch my bus home after work.  Low and behold, walking up the sidewalk towards me is Tom!  Recognizing me, he accelerated forward to shake my hand.

"Remember me?"  He asked, smiling.          How could I forget?

He proceeded to tell me that after school had finished he took what I said to heart, persevered in his job hunt and landed his dream job coding with an oil company in downtown Calgary.  His demeanour and outlook had totally changed.  He was upbeat, full of energy and brimming with hope.  I was SO encouraged.  He thanked me for sharing my story and thoughts on attitude back in class.  I wished him good luck with his coding career and we parted ways.

Attitude is huge.  Not just your attitude, but how you think and react to circumstances outside your control.  Take ownership of the things you can change.  Determine to make the things you can't change work in your favour, one way or the other.

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