We all have friends as tech geeks, those people who talk to us in syllables and consonants and expect us to be as smart as us when it comes to understanding our computers and tablets. Well I am one and as a parent of a three year old, I often spend time wondering how to raise my daughter so that she’s positioned for a bright, happy and financially stable future. I thought back on how I was raised and what my mother did right to get me where I am today. I wondered what events made the biggest impact on this direction and passion and I am sure that most parents today have these same thoughts. So I decided to ask my coworkers what led them down their own path to working at Nutmeg Consulting, a leader of IT solutions in Connecticut.
What I noticed immediately when when I asked my colleagues where their love (and sometimes obsession) with technology started, I found some common threads through the stories.
I got my first computer when I was 8 and my parents instruction was to “do all your homework on it”. It was an old, clunky (and awesome) machine that sounded like an airplane taking off and using it forced me to learn how it worked at a very early age. In high school (this was rare at the time) I was able to take an Accelerated Computer Science class a year early (because I had the math background already) and in my senior year the basic applications course learning Lotus 1-2-3, DBase III, and Wordperfect (I’m dating myself here). I never did take a typing course, but played Mavis Beacon (a typing course/game) when I was a kid. Surprisingly, what really made a difference was using online chat at my college. I can now type very fast without looking at the keyboard. That obsession and early knowledge of computers took me a long way!
Lesson: Start early and expose your child to new educational opportunities whenever possible. A few extra math classes never hurt.
About a year ago my soon-to-be 16 year-old tells me he wants to build a computer to replace his aging laptop. I tell him I think that is a bad idea because 1) he knows nothing about computer hardware and 2) even if he assembles everything right, if one component doesn't work, he'll have no idea what the problem is or how to resolve it.
Like all 15 year-olds, he had watched a few YouTube videos on builds and assembly and had full confidence he could do it, no problem right?. I decided to go along with his plan since it was a win-win for me. Either everything would go fine and he would accomplish building his own computer from scratch which is a pretty good accomplishment, or it wouldn't work and I'd be right! It might turn out to be a painless experience where he would learn as a teenager, to"listen to dad". We all know those moments are few and far between!
After getting the components through saving and Christmas gifts he spent most of a Saturday afternoon assembling everything. I came home to a very dejected son who had assembled the computer twice and it still didn’t work. I helped him troubleshoot it father and son working side by side!. After replacing the power supply and then the motherboard, about two weeks later he had a fully functional PC he had built himself which turned out great and he learned a lot along the way.
The best part was hearing him say "Dad, you were right." This fall he added memory and replaced a fan, and told me about it after the fact.
Lesson: Let them take some risks, let them fail even, but turn it into a teachable moment.
Oddly enough, my interest was sparked by my Dad. I was the youngest and last one at home so he included me in working on the Briggs and Stratton motor repairs, farm equipment maintenance and of course working on cars for friends and family. It made me curious of how things worked and how to help people fix them when they didn't.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to get your kids a little dirty. The road to IT isn’t often straight. Most of our staff started out in one area and transferred our skills to another.
I had a lot of Lego sets to play with as a kid, especially the space and Technics ones. I was also always interested in tech in general, and spent quite a lot of time and money at Radio Shack building various circuits. My dad bought us a family PC when I was in 4th grade and on day 1, I accidentally formatted the boot diskette instead of the blank one. I spent several weeks exploring how they work and did a lot of tinkering. My parents also sent me to the Talcott Mountain Academy of Science and Mathematics for a summer robotics, electronics and computers program.
Lesson: Let them break things without fear and get them involved outside of school.
My interest stems from my dad who is also an engineer. As early as I can remember he was pushing my love for math and science. He let me have my first computer when I was 12 and we were upgrading the family PC. The only stipulation was that I had to drag it across the house and set it up by myself. After spending hours bugging him about all of the parts in the open case I finally put it back together and played Starcraft non-stop for the day.
My dad is still my biggest help and support however, and one of my favorite resources for math, science, and programming related help. He also continues to encourage the same love for all things STEM related with my younger siblings, who can be found tearing apart electronics in their spare time, and taking parts from old broken electronics to create their own "technic" lego projects from scratch and setting up simple circuits in Minecraft.
Lesson: You will always be the most important influence on your children’s direction in life.
There is obviously a common thread in all of these stories. In each case it was a parent encouraging a child to try something out, to break things and figure out how to fix it themselves. Parents gave them the tools, attention and lessons they would need to be problem solvers not just to become IT people, but to become problem solvers in other areas too…a fantastic skill in all parts of life. I’d love to hear your own experiences on how you learned your techie skills or what you are doing to help your children develop theirs.