Erin Devine Martin / Digital Strategy / November 12th, 2015

Inspiring the Next Tech Gurus of Generation Z

Three Five Two was founded on the talent and ability of young digital experts. Our roots near the University of Florida allowed us to grow quickly with a pipeline of enthusiastic programmers and designers, and the vibrant cultures of Atlanta and Tampa have fueled our growth and expansion. However, as digital becomes a ubiquitous element of our world, we recognize we need to play an active role in fostering the development of talented young professionals.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.26.45 AMThis past spring, our Gainesville office welcomed 15 7th graders for a glimpse into life and work at a digital product development agency. Broken out into three groups and paired with members of the 352 team, we tasked students to generate a business concept and create wireframe prototypes for a new digital app over the course of a work day. The results were outstanding: fully fleshed out ideas for their digital products, impressive designs and, most of all, an avid desire to keep working in order to bring their ideas to life.

Every single participant rated the experience a “5 out of 5” and begged to come in to the office again to keep their projects’ momentum going. This experience opened our eyes to the importance of tech education and how tech professionals can become advocates for this cause.

Tipping the Tech Scale

This experience gave us all the good feels, but the fact of the matter is that our efforts couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Tech talent will only continue to be more and more in demand as emerging technologies become a critical aspect of daily life. Not to mention that men have historically outnumbered women in the tech industry by a hugely disproportionate amount. In fact, only 26% of the computing workforce is female, despite the fact that companies that have women in leadership positions tend to see a 34% higher ROI.

The increasing “skills gap” between the high demand and limited supply for tech talent, as well as the “gender gap” in tech, puts all youngsters in a prime position to develop skills to eventually help balance out these disparities. We believe it’s our responsibility – and that of every tech-driven company – to nurture the creativity and talent of younger generations.

Experience to Inspire Interest

If the students’ sheer enthusiasm didn’t give it away, it was clear that once exposed to the exciting possibilities of a tech career, young students are more than eager to dive in. In other words, interest itself isn’t the problem – it’s exposure. Passion follows when kids experience the possibilities that a tech career could give them.

According to the Daily Mail, kids aged 2-12 most often cited careers as doctors, athletes, and teachers when asked what they’d like to be when they grow up. In fact, it should come as no surprise that all of the top 10 types of careers kids prefer at this age are positions that are highly visible in their everyday lives and present in many books, games and movies. If kids gravitate toward the familiar, our goal should be to help make tech more ubiquitous very early on, so that being a computer engineer is as much as an option as wanting to be like their family doctor when they’re older.

Coding in the Curriculum

We know that tech education is crucial, and that when kids are exposed to tech they have a better chance of having interests develop, so how can we bridge the gap? First and foremost, we need to advocate for tech education from a very young age. Not only for the sake of creating a skill set over a longer period of time, but inspiring the interest in children before stigmas about computer science can develop and discourage students at a later age. And this social pressure is not be underestimated. Before and during adolescence, 35% of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career interest is from girls, but only 18% of students that pursue tech-related degrees are female. Integrating tech education in school curriculum beginning in the elementary years destigmatized tech talent, and tech skills are instilled alongside other critical lessons such as language and math.

So…What Can We Do?

Though the current issues we face with tech education for the younger generation seem impossible to overcome, we can help by taking one small step at a time. As a tech professional, you make a difference! Just as 352 strives to help young students see how exciting a career in tech can be through our office workshops, other companies and professionals can get in on the action and impact students’ lives in support of tech. Here are some ways you can help:

  • Host an Hour of Code this December. Founded by Code.org, the Hour of Code is a one-hour basic intro to computer science for young students. Just select a location, pick a tutorial, and spend an hour with kids opening their eyes to the world of code. Learn more and register at Code.org.
  • Have kids of your own? Tech education can begin at home. Check out codeSpark to discover interactive games aimed at teaching kids computer science from a young age. Download The Foos game on your mobile phone or let your kids play on a web browser, and they’ll be learning tech while having fun!

Inspiring the next generation of tech talent is more than simple charity – it’s vital to the success of our agency and our economy. Young talent was the engine of 352’s growth, and we continue to rely on the ingenuity and innovation of new recruits. We’ve seen firsthand that the future is bright, and we’ll continue to do all we can to help the next wave of tech gurus shine. Won’t you join us in the effort?

  • Michele Cynowicz

    Great article Erin. I’d like to add to the list of options for parents and educators. The board game Robot Turtles ( http://www.robotturtles.com/ ) is a conceptual introduction to how programming works and Tynker ( https://www.tynker.com/ ) is a great resource for kids 7+ to start programming games with a web-based visual interface.

    • Erin

      Wonderful idea – thanks for sharing about Robot Turtles & Tynker as well! The more resources available, the better.