The old stereotype of the tech worker as a young, male, hoodied coder hunched over a laptop in a dark basement needs to be retired.
Nothing could be further from reality. The increasing diversity of Atlantic Canada’s innovation sector is so important, it was the first topic I tackled with guests on the Tech Talks podcast. This myth isn’t just outdated, it’s damaging, limiting our ability to nurture and recruit young people with a range of skills–not only coders and engineers–to a whole spectrum of jobs.
And what a terrific pair of guests I had on for the show!
Anneke van der Laan and Darcy Wells contradict the idea that only geeky guys make it in tech. Recent university grads who grew up in New Brunswick and are now working for software companies, they’ve taken very different paths into the innovation sector.
Anneke, a numbers nut who realized at university that computer science was a cool way to apply math with logic, is a programmer at Sonrai Security, the wildly successful cloud security startup based in Fredericton. Darcy, a commerce major who’s in sales at Cisco, the global networking hardware heavyweight, shows that it isn’t all engineers.
What was really interesting about our conversation was all the common ground Anneke and Darcy share. They both know that, in tech, no matter what department you call home, the learning never stops. They talked about how they have been trained on the job, with mentors and supportive teams to help them. “Don’t be scared of what you don’t know,” is their wise advice to students. And they urged students in all majors to explore roles in tech through internships, co-ops and industry events.
We talked about the lack of knowledge or misunderstandings students have about the industry. Anneke shared how even her close friends don’t really understand what computer science is or what her prospects were coming out of school.
“Good luck going to write code in a dark basement,” they’d say.
Today’s tech landscape has opportunities for all kinds of people. There are software companies and so much more. Today’s innovation jobs span all sectors: health, education, the environment, manufacturing. There are roles in government or the private sector. And the range of companies runs the gamut from local startups to pioneering multinationals. Best of all? You don’t need to move to Silicon Valley or Toronto for great jobs. There are lots of positions right here, and in a hybrid working model with more remote positions, you can have your cake and eat it too in Atlantic Canada.
My point? Tech is not just one thing.
Finally, I loved that the conversation turned to money. When Darcy said that women should talk about it more, I was nodding my head in agreement. Too often, we treat salary or success as a private, almost taboo subject. Frankly, I wish I’d had that unapologetic tone when I started out, and women were much scarcer than they are now. There's no need to apologize for the financial success many tech jobs offer.
What stayed with me most from our conversation? Anneke and Darcy’s energy and enthusiasm for their work. Tech is an exciting, challenging and dynamic field. And it’s fun. While these two go-getters clearly work very hard, their pleasure in their jobs’ challenges and rewards came through loud and clear.
Honestly, they made me so excited about the future of the talent we're building out of Atlantic Canada. We’re in good hands. There are so many opportunities for new talent coming out of university and college. You just have to listen to Anneke and Darcy to get hooked by their enthusiasm.
If you want to hear into the full conversation, click hereto listen.
Here’s a peek at some of the highlights from our chat:
[06:07]: Anneke reflects on the transition from student to working life and how on-the-job training is different than classroom learning, shifting from theory to real-world solutions.
[10:36]: Darcy talks about her learning experience as a non-technical salesperson at a technology company, learning about the product but also picking up sales skills.
[16:09]: We chat about how COVID-19 has affected their routines and some of the benefits and challenges of working remotely versus being in an office.
[23:45]: I ask Anneke and Darcy their thoughts on how university or college students can connect to opportunities in tech.
[25:00]: Darcy talks about how companies like hers are willing to teach new recruits what you need you to know, including the value that your company’s technology brings to its customers.
[29:45]: Anneke offers up some tips on how students can break into the sector.
[35:56]: Darcy on what universities and schools can be doing to point non-technical students to jobs in the innovation sector.
[38:29]: Anneke describes misconceptions about computer science and the need for early exposure to coding and tech skills, especially for girls.
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