Our community could benefit from having more tech jobs available, as well as more qualified people to fill them. These jobs continue to become a more important component of every business, and not having candidates ready to fill these positions will limit our ability to attract and maintain the companies that need them.
These are also high paying jobs. The nationwide average a few years ago was over $108,000 per year, and the Missouri average is above $88,000 per year, which is still well above the average for our area. People in these jobs tend to buy houses, pay taxes, pay for local services, and go to local businesses. So, it doesn’t hurt to have them around. How can we attract more companies that need tech workers to our area and, at the same time, have more people ready to fill them? One way is to introduce our kids to these jobs and help prepare them to enter the modern workforce.
I run a local tech company, and I’m the father of two girls, ages 3 and 7. When I put the two biggest topics in my life right now together, I wind up spending time thinking about kids and technology. More specifically, I often wonder whether my daughters, if they grow up and choose careers in tech, will be able to do that here in Jefferson City, as I do now. Or will they have to move away?
Sometimes it feels like the focus in our society is teaching kids with technology. We spend a lot of money to have giant touchscreens where they can click on educational videos, and we hand out Chromebooks or iPads. These things are nice, and they make our classrooms look good while — I’m sure — helping keep kids’ attention. But we also need to teach them about technology.
Just like many plumbers, electricians, or carpenters learn the trade from their parents, I was fortunate enough to learn the tech trade from my father, who is still a computer programmer. My first introduction was sometime in the 1980s, before I was 10 years old. There was an application on the Apple II where you could tell a turtle to move around the screen. You gave the turtle a series of commands like “forward 50” or “right 90” and it would follow your orders.
As the years went by, the company my father worked for would periodically upgrade their computers, and he would bring home old computers and programming guides. I would read the guides and try to get the computers to do things by just tinkering around. I had no idea that I was learning the skills that would propel my career and lead to prosperity. But what would have happened if my father hadn’t been a programmer?
It can be hard to talk to our kids about things we don’t have a whole lot of experience with. But the best we can do as parents is to give them encouragement and try to point them in the right direction. I’d like to highlight a few of these career paths in tech in case you aren’t familiar with some of them so you have a better shot at pointing them in the right direction.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to inspire your children. Ultimately the path they choose will be up to them, but we can always give them some ideas they might not otherwise know are out there.
If your kid likes to solve problems and build things, they might make a good developer. Developers are the people who build software and tell computers what to do. There are developers who specialize in web, user interfaces, video games, etc. While it helps, not every developer needs to be good at math. Unless you’re building video games or working on systems that require a lot of math, it’s more common that you need to be a good listener (to understand requirements) and be a critical thinker (to understand logic and anticipate challenges). You can try looking online for games that require basic programming.
If keeping track of a lot of things (e.g., playing games like “The Sims”) piques your children’s interest, they might make a good product manager. The product manager is responsible for figuring out what customers need in the software, communicating that to the developers, prioritizing the work, and helping the business understand when things will be complete.
This one really requires lots of math, so if your kid is a numbers wiz, data science may be a good fit. Data scientists look for patterns in data and analyze it. This can include poring over a lot of statistics or even designing systems that use artificial intelligence to analyze big data sets. To get kids started, any activities involving math or recognizing patterns is good.
For kids who like to take things apart and figure out how to put them back together, becoming a tester could be the ideal career. Testers make sure that the software works properly. Modern testing often requires knowledge of computer programming, as companies are relying more and more on automation to do this. I tell my kids this is “making robots that go around the internet clicking on things to make sure they work.”
There are many different roles in marketing, and depending on which one you pick, you may find different personalities fit. Some are more about analyzing data to understand who’s using your products and services, while others are more about messaging, communications, and presentation.
Working in sales isn’t just about selling houses and cars anymore. People making enterprise software sales can make well into the six figures. If you’ve got the kind of kid that pays attention to others’ needs and is persistent about providing justifications for why you should buy them something, they may have a future in software sales.
Most tech companies of a certain size have their own designers — for children talented in art and drawing, this could be a good path. Depending on the company, designers may focus more on web design, user interfaces, or graphics. They are the people who make banners, logos, and PowerPoint backgrounds. They select fonts and colors that not only make things look good, but also drive revenue. My 7-year-old, who loves art, was blown away to know that people get paid to make art for companies. Children can practice these skills using any number of free drawing programs.
Chris Harbert is originally from Saint Louis and a long-time resident of Mid-Missouri with a short stint in the DC area. Chris is the founder and CEO of Testery, a cloud-based continuous testing platform and local tech startup. He has over a decade of experience leading teams that build, deploy, and test software, including for some local companies like CARFAX. He’s earned a master’s degree in computer science from Mizzou and an executive MBA from the University of Maryland.