Presenting: Software Development

software is eating the world

Last week I had the honor of presenting to a group of high school students. They attend a class at Brookhaven College that introduces JavaScript and for many of them, the very concept of programming. I was asked to talk about what software development is like as a career. They wanted the students to understand where this class could lead.

I’m no stranger to presentations. Speaking in front of a group is old hat but it’s been a while since I’ve had to sell. I wasn’t looking to convince everyone in the room that this was the job for them. It’s not. For some of them other careers will be more rewarding. I wanted to give them something to think about. I wanted to show them that software development could be a great choice.

Briefly I laid out my credentials so they would know where I was coming from. Then I jumped into a short lesson on the history of computing. History wouldn’t normally be my first salvo in a sales effort. Here I did it so that I could talk about two figures in particular.

I wanted to talk about Alan Turing. The Imitation Game came out last year and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention that they’re making movies about icon figures in computing. I also mentioned his efforts to fight the Nazis by helping to break their ciphers. When I mentioned that he poisoned himself with an apple laced with cyanide there were audible gasps. At least I know they were listening.

After Turing I moved on to Margaret Hamilton. This class was more women than men and I wanted to feature a successful woman. Hamilton also gave me the opportunity to demonstrate the important role of software in major events. Her guidance code made sure the Apollo 11 moon landing wasn’t a moon crashing.

Moving toward the present I starting discussing the modern lifestyle of a developer. Punch cards of the past exchanged for modern languages, high salaries, and regular remote work. I dispelled the myth that being a developer means being a math whiz. I compared it to being both architect and construction worker. The creativity of designing with the satisfaction and reward of crafting.

Finally I presented them with two examples of the success I was selling. I told them about Cameron who’s working remote from Taipei. I explained Amir’s love of games and his creation of A Dark Room. There were some murmurs in the back from students familiar with his work. I wanted to show them that these ideas weren’t just talk. These weren’t nebulous success stories they were real people. People I’ve worked with and have the privilege to call friends.

The entire process gave me the chance to reflect on how lucky I am. I’m well compensated to do what I love. I stressed that they should find a career where they can be successful and happy, even if it’s not development. If I’m lucky my talk will help someone do just that and it’ll have been worth every second.