On January 9, 2023, IGNITE Students from Grandview High School in Grandview, WA attended a virtual Work-Based Learning Experience with Microsoft focused on How to Get a Job in Technology!
The Facilitator, Valerie Olague, kicked things off by emphasizing that many interests and skill sets, like art, are involved in technology jobs and companies. When people think of Microsoft they often think of things like PowerPoint and Excel, but Microsoft has also developed a vast range of products, from the Surface Laptop and Xbox, to LinkedIn, to the cloud network and Artificial Intelligence—and all these things take a whole team of diverse people to create.
Following the introduction, Valerie introduced two panelists to share more about themselves and what they do in STEM:
Andrea Britto, a Research Software Engineer, loves that she gets to study and experiment a lot in her job! In high school, she wanted to be a doctor, and then she took a programming class out of the blue. Now she gets opportunities to work on all sorts of projects that do good things for society, including working with doctors to help build a system that will bring telemedicine to underserved communities. A huge perk of the technology industry is that Andrea can work remotely from home in Brazil!
Daetri Reed, a Project Manager, also started off on a non-technical path—she was a writer in high school! Her introduction to programming came in college, and she got her first job as a programmer with Microsoft in January 2020. About six months in, Daetri realized she didn’t really like coding. She shared with her bosses things she did like doing, and she ended up in her current position as a Project Manager, which involves a lot of writing and communicating!
Students asked the speakers great questions:
Does social awkwardness impact your job and how you work as a team?
Daetri said there are times when she’s leading a meeting and she’s the only one talking. She works to develop good relationships and understand how individual people interact and uses that knowledge to encourage them to engage. Relationships are also very important as a Project Manager so other teams will support you to get things done!
Is it important for programmers to develop better communication?
Communication is an asset in whatever you do. Programmers with good communication skills are particularly valuable! Daetri’s job is to bridge the gap in communication and social skills and also make sure that people who may not be as vocal have their ideas and concerns heard.
Why are so many people, especially women, not interested in STEM?
Both panelists shared that in school and their careers, they have mostly found themselves in rooms full of men. But you shouldn’t let a room’s makeup intimidate you! You can influence how others accept you by having confidence in yourself and in your work. It’s so important to have more women in STEM, because if men are making all the decisions, our voices will never be heard; we’ll never have software or apps that are tailored to our needs.
What kinds of technical skills should I start learning now?
Basic knowledge of programming is a good foundation. Andrea recommended starting with Python and said there are many free learning resources available online. Both speakers stressed that non-technical skills like communication and problem-solving are fundamental too. Daetri added that working in technology provides stability and financial freedom!
After the panel, students broke into groups to participate in a mock technical interview, led by Andrea and Daetri.
The Microsoft mentors emphasized how important it is to have everyone’s voice heard, and to not be afraid to speak up! It’s ok—even encouraged—to be vulnerable, confident, and creative in an interview. Highlight your personality; diversity in personality is just as important as diversity in gender!
Students were asked to answer four interview questions:
- What is your favorite Microsoft product?
- Tip: Incorporate the company’s mission statement into your answer!
- Describe what coding is in your own words.
- Talk about a problem you had and how you solved it.
- One student shared about a last-minute problem with a venue for a big fundraiser. They asked students and community members for alternative locations without success, and ultimately got help from city hall to make the location safe—community members even pitched in to help!
- Another great example was trying to manage time with a busy schedule, like completing homework and picking up siblings from school.
- What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
- Students shared insightful examples, including strengths like a growth mindset, determination, open-mindedness, and a willingness to ask for help. One student identified something that is both a strength and a weakness: Wanting to achieve things and believing they can do everything they put their mind to. This is also a weakness, because it’s hard to remember to do one thing at a time instead of trying to do everything at once.
- Some shared weaknesses that they’re working to develop, such as public speaking, lack of confidence and communication skills, and being an overthinker.
At the end of the event, the professionals shared what they wish they knew when they were in high school:
Andrea said: “You don’t have to have a dream job, it’s ok to want many different things. Experiment, do your research, and you will find a job you love. Take advantage of the amazing amount of free courses online.”
Daetri said: “You don’t have to know what you want to do right now—you have time to try things out and figure out what you like and don’t like!”
The mock interviews were helpful for students to understand what’s involved in an interview and get valuable practice. Students also benefited from advice on soft skills that are important in the job—which they got to see firsthand during the activity!
Thank you to the IGNITE volunteers for providing such a fun and informative event: Daetri Reed and Sadaf Waheed for organizing the event, Facilitator Valerie Olague, Tech Host Stephanie Vaughn, and Panelists/Breakout Room Leaders Daetri Reed and Andrea Britto.
After attending this event:
Here’s what the students thought of the event:
“Today’s event helped me realize all the amazing career opportunities that STEM has to offer. My biggest takeaway was that STEM jobs can be for everyone, no matter your interests or goals. Thank you to the volunteers, their insight was super helpful.” – 11th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to pursue going into the STEM field, even if not a lot of women are in STEM. I also liked that the speakers were very inspiring and talked in-depth about STEM and what it means to them. The biggest takeaway from today was that you shouldn’t be to scared to go into STEM. I also left today feeling more confident.” – 10th grade
“Today’s event taught me that the smallest things we’re learning right now will matter in the future. It made me realize that women still have the capability to achieve something when it comes to STEM. I also learned that STEM is more than just math and that you’re able to find what you want to do later in the future.” – 10th grade
“After hearing more about how STEM is in everyday life and how it can influence other professions like agriculture, it convinced me that there is a place for everybody in STEM. My big takeaways from today’s event was that you belong in STEM courses/jobs, don’t let other internal and external factors convince you otherwise, and establishing your self-confidence is key! Be proud of who you are and don’t let anyone demote that confidence.” – 11th grade
“I still haven’t decided what I want to study, but today’s meeting helped me because it opened me to new jobs. I feel like the speakers were very kind and fun, it made me think that the STEM field was a good, positive field to get into.” – 11th grade
“Three takeaways were that the STEM field is filled with all kinds of opportunities. Secondly, just because there aren’t as many women in the STEM, that doesn’t mean you should feel discouraged. Thirdly, everyone seems very kind and communicative.” – 11th grade
“Today’s event inspired me in so many different ways. It taught me that speaking up is very important and to not give up on learning new things. The speakers’ stories made me feel a lot better about myself.” – 10th grade
“This event taught me that communication can be really helpful if you want to pursue STEM. It also inspired me because knowing what you want and what to say can help you. I would like to thank the volunteers for giving us advice, just communicating with us, inspiring us, and telling us about their lives.” – 9th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to pursue a STEM career. I found it important that we received valuable information from people who have pursued a STEM career. My biggest takeaway from today was that STEM is everywhere, not only in technology. Additionally, something that also stood out to me was that work in this field can be done independently or by a team. Thank you for the knowledge I gained during this experience!” – 11th grade
“Today’s event inspired me to pursue a STEM-related job. Hearing from today’s panel was helpful. Their personal stories about working in STEM and how it has impacted their lives gave me a lot to think about. Also, getting feedback and insight on how some jobs in STEM might look has helped and inspired me today too.” – 11th grade
“Some big takeaways from today would be that there is so much you can do with STEM, it is a really broad field where you can do a variety of things and it is integrated in many different areas of life. STEM is also one of the most important and needed jobs and it can do a lot for you.” – 11th grade