• Sabrina Tanevski

Getting to the Root of Buffalo's Tech Talent Shortage

Please take the time to read this very relevant article by Brooke DeLucia, IT Recruiter & Team Manager / Buffalo & Western New York Market, and a great advocate for teaching computer science from an early age.

Published on October 15, 2019

Brooke DeLucia

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about campaigns to lure Tech Talent to Buffalo to address the serious talent shortage. I applaud everyone putting time and resources into this effort.  As an IT Recruiter, I’ve been trying to sell people on our great city and the perks of living and working here for more than 20 years. The unfortunate situation is that a Developer open to relocating, has many other options in cities with warmer climates, lower taxes, similar cost of living and higher salaries. This is a hard argument to win alone but hopefully our entire Recruiting & Talent Acquisition community will have better tools in hand thanks to the new regional marketing campaign “Be in Buffalo”, an Invest Buffalo Niagara. It’s also encouraging to hear that UB’s recent STEAM Job Fair drew over 1000 college students who were prepared and ready to impress.  While it’s great to see the investment being made in those who have already chosen to pursue tech in college or currently work in the industry, are we doing enough to ignite an interest in tech with the younger generations that will soon be our future workforce?

I had the privilege of presenting to 6 High School Computer Science classes recently. The topic was Tech Careers – why this is a great field to get into and why Buffalo is a great place to work in tech. I reached out to my LinkedIn community for help and was grateful to have so many successful tech professionals share their personal journey into tech and their advice for students considering this field. I researched the stigmas that discourage students from taking this path and I came prepared to crush those stigmas. I created my first Kahoot! What is a “Kahoot!” you ask?  My “advisors” (aka, teacher husband & teenage daughters) told me this was the only way I was going to get audience participation. I created questions that I hoped would give better insight into how these kids felt about careers in tech. The questions appear on a smartboard and the kids log in from their phones to answer. Apparently raising your arm and using your actual voice to answer a question is “old school” now. But it was really fun and pretty insightful!

Here is what I learned from the 70 or so Computer Science students who participated.

·        First off - it’s really hard to be a teacher, standing all day with no time to eat or go to the bathroom & just when kids are getting engaged, the fire alarm goes off. Kudos to all you teachers out there!

71% are interested in Tech & want to learn more.54% found that Computer Science wasn’t as hard as they thought it would be.

When asked: "Did this class inspire you to consider a Tech Career": 34% said “yes”, 43% said “maybe”.

When asked: “What is stopping you from considering a career in Tech?” they had the following options which includes some popular, often incorrect stigmas:

You have to be a genius in math – 10%I don’t want to sit in a cubicle all day – 18%I already know what I want to do, and it’s not Tech – 30%I have no idea what job in Tech is right for me – 42%

This was interesting to me on many levels. First – there are still many stigmas around the type of person who is meant for a career in Tech. Second – if we are waiting until high school to expose kids to Tech, it may be too late to convince them to explore it. But most importantly, these kids need exposure into what careers in tech really look like. Let’s face it, most kids are going to strive for a career that is familiar to them – teacher, doctor, police officer, etc.  Unlike most fields, there are so many directions you can go in technology with countless roles that are so varied and often require unique skills and strengths. What kid wakes up one day and says, “I want to be a Database Administrator!” These kids want to be able to visualize what their “end game” will look like once they decide on a career path.  This is the challenge with Tech - it’s almost impossible to visualize all the career possibilities, especially with the limited exposure they have into the field.  It doesn’t help that most parents and other mentors are just as mystified by the Tech field.

Last year, I had two daughters taking different Computer Science classes in high school. They didn’t take the classes because they had an interest in coding. They took the class because people in their lives that they looked up to (parents & teachers), encouraged them – well, bribed and begged may be more accurate in my case. I exposed my kids as elementary students through “pseudo-coding” games they played on hour of code. I convinced (ie. bribed) them to participate in a coding contest that was being done at our local library over winter break. So they had some idea of what to expect by taking this class and in all honesty, they were apprehensive. But they powered through! And something miraculous happened. They liked it. At night, I would watch the two of them collaborating on the apps they were creating, critiquing and complimenting each other, laser focused on the code that wasn’t working and determined to figure out the problems. Ultimately, my older daughter’s app was entered into a National Student App Challenge and she won $500!  By the time she finished this class, it was the end of her senior year with a major already decided on – sadly, her interest in tech came a little too late. But she did say that this experience opened her eyes to other possible career directions in case her first choice doesn’t work out.  Luckily, I have two more tries to convince at least one of my kids to pursue this field!

Wow, this is getting long, if you are still hanging in there with me, thank you! I’ll wrap it up by saying that if you are in a position to expose our younger generation to all the possibilities that a career in Tech can bring, please do it! If your child is naturally curious, a tinkerer, a creative problem solver – enroll them in a STEAM or Code Camp to ignite that spark even more. They are listening and they are craving direction.  And if you work in Tech, find a way to share your Tech story with kids.  Better yet, band together IT Professionals and take your show on the road! Most K-12 schools have career fairs and are looking for professionals to participate. You could be a guest speaker in a Middle or High School Computer Science or Tech class.  We can all play a part to eliminate the Tech talent shortage – it impacts all of us- and in ways we probably don’t even realize.  With unfilled Tech Jobs at an all-time high, why isn’t Computer Science required curriculum? Investing in the K-12 demographic won’t have the fastest ROI but it could arguably have a more critical impact on the talent shortage in the long run.


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