Inspired by a recent post by Xenia I started thinking a little bit more about the current situation, where a lot of open job positions wait to be filled in the tech industry and not enough young people getting into this line of work. Now Xenia especially points out women, who should go into tech. I will generalise a little bit more, as I believe that there are not only not enough women (who are direly missed in this industry) but not enough young people in general. Over the next couple of lines I am trying to write down my thoughts on why that is and how we all can help to improve that.
Why do people chose this line of work? There are a multitude of reasons which come to my mind. Knowing your way around computers requires a certain thirst for knowledge as you constantly have to keep up with new technology and this breeds a special kind of people who are very adaptive and therefore, in addition to their much needed skills, much sought after by today's economy. This means that being an engineer provides you with a very stable job and a good income, bit much more importantly, the possibility to always learn new things, do research and build "the next great thing". Also being a nerd became kind of cool in recent years, which you basically get as a nice addition.
Unfortunately all these things mean, that this line of work is not always easy and can become quite challenging, especially when you're doing research and going to build things, which have not been done before. When I talk to young engineers, I feel that sometimes they are put off by the thought, that they might not be able to face up to these challenges. Especially young women, who are the center of Xenia's post, seem to have to tendency to underestimate themselves when it comes to their potential of overcoming these obstacles.
I believe this is also a reason why we see so many "tech"-blogs growing like mushrooms everywhere, because their authors (and certainly not all of them) start to get in the field of tech and somehow get "stuck" at the beginning when they see the first challenges on the horizon. The question is, how to we motivate people to believe in themselves and take the fear of not being able to master some tasks?
For me this lack of confidence is a symptom of our social network society, where you only always see the "best" of others and almost never see their struggle or things going wrong. Phsychologically, this lets us believe that what we see is the new "normal" out there and we start to compare our own struggle with this "perfect" looking world. It does not surprise me much, that young people become insecure, when they only read articles about the smartest minds out there.
Now I want to let you in on a little secret: You don't have to know everything and it is OK to say so!
The real world looks quite different, I have the feeling that the majority of people in tech are not as smart as you might believe (and I certainly count myself among them). It is absolutely clear that it is impossible to know an answer to every question and it is OK to relay a question to someone else or simply get back to them at a later point in time. I find individuals, who incorporated this knowledge into their being very inspiring and I believe that they are even smarter than someone who wants to pinpoint you in an argument. As an example I want to show you the following talk from UNConf, where Anjana Vakil delivers a great introduction into functional programming from the perspective of a beginner in this area.
Talks like this are very important, because they not only inform the audience about the topic at hand but also show how fulfilling it can be to get into tech and let people take part in your journey. This is where we all can work together to improve the situation and motivate young people to start looking into coding.
Another way how we all greatly can help, is by offering our knowledge and take someone new to the industry by their hand and lead them. You don't need perfect knowledge to become a good mentor, you simple need to be willing to share your experience and step in when someone stops believing in their abilities. Show others that you are also still learning and that they can achieve everything by simply being persistent and hungry for more knowledge.
Please let me know about any other ideas, how we can help to make the tech industry more desirable and less scary.