Advice to IT students: Learning to love what you might hate right now

After I gave a talk at the Toronto College of Technology on how IT students can get ready for the workplace, I asked two of my virtual assistants (both educators) to follow up with some advice that they could share with their students and with students around the world. This post was contributed by Rose Andrade-Calicdan, who connected with me on oDesk. I think it’s not only an excellent insight into how IT courses can help one prepare for life’s twists and turns, but also a glimpse into the lives of wonderful people who offer virtual assistance.

In total, it took her 1.5 hours to write, and about .5 hours of my time to give her feedback and polish the results. My conclusion: I think it was worth investing that time in bringing this story out, and I learned a lot in the process.

Also, I feel tremendously unqualified to be delegating tasks to her, but that’s okay; I can think of it as making excuses for her to develop her skills, gain even more experience (and have more anecdotes to share with her students!), and teach me something cool. =)


Advice to IT students: Learning to love what you might hate right now

by Rose Andrade-Calicdan

Teaching is a rewarding career, but it can be frustrating if your students are unmotivated and uninterested in their course. Many students registered for courses they hated, because of their parents’ demands. Some just tagged along with friends. Others had no other choice or had no idea what to pursue. Many of these students are in my class. My challenge is: how can I motivate these students to like my programming course (which they despise) and teach them the skills they need for work?

Even during the first few days of classes, I could feel some students’ boredom. They wouldn’t participate in discussion or join the classroom interactions. I needed to encourage involvement in my class as part of the student-centered approach to class management. I love sharing my knowledge, and I also enjoy growing this knowledge by collecting others’ ideas. My personal belief is that the more you share what you have, the more you learn and gain.  

How could I stimulate interaction and participation? Initially, I tried to let them see the significance of each lesson, demonstrating how those lessons related to their lives. If they understood how something affects them personally, they would be more likely to pay attention to the lesson.

How could I enthusiastically share my own experience in order to heighten their interest in continuing learning? I shared how I started working in the academe, how I had experienced working on various IT-related and non-IT related jobs, and how I learned the skills to compete with other applicants.

I told my students about my first non-IT related job, which was at the hospital. I was in charge of receiving and filing health forms submitted by patients in order to claim medical benefits. Although this task was not directly related to my course, it was my first stepping-stone to more work opportunities. Even though the job was simple, I tried to find ways to gain more experience and get the ‘know-how’ of real work scenarios. By keenly observing how the hospital generated related information, I was able to study the ‘ins and outs’ of real computer-based information systems, which during my studies were all theories and intangible concepts.

Later, I had my first break: my first programming job. At the same hospital where I had worked, I was asked to create a database of patient information that could record medical treatment received by patients, monitor doctors’ consultations, and generate relevant reports. That was my first real taste of IT work.

But I still wanted to teach. Taking advantage of time flexibility, I applied as a college instructor. It was difficult to adjust to working in the academe and going back to the same routine of studying and learning new lessons, but I got used to it. During this time, preparing lessons for my students was a burden. The Internet wasn’t available then, so I had to bring home several books from the library. Even though it was difficult, I gained a lot from the experience. I improved my ability to write course manuals specifically designed to suit my students’ needs and enhance their learning. And as an IT graduate, I had an advantage: I could use tools to help me develop these materials. Combining my new technical writing skills with my IT knowledge, I wrote an IT textbook and prepared modules for IT-related courses.

The biggest break in my IT career took place when I was teaching. I wanted to personally experience real IT work. During my first summer break, I took a big programming job at my own risk! I was given a deadline to develop the application in less than two months. With guts, brainstorming sessions, and careful analysis and design, I completed a school program for assessing student fees. I found it quite complicated as the school had different schedules of fees for different type of students: government scholars, siblings discount, and various types of installment programs. This really tested my expertise. I remembered all my classes in database and programming concepts, system analysis and design knowledge, project management and software engineering. I conducted several stakeholders’ meetings, gathered users’ requirements and specifications, developed, debugged, constructed and tested–all by myself!  Whew! I not only survived the six-week project, I delivered what the school needed just in time for their school enrollment.

When I had several years of experience in the academe, I was given the opportunity to manage a school as the College Dean. My position called for greater responsibility. I had to run the school, implementing policies while ensuring that quality education was being provided to our students. Schools face very stiff competition. Most of the time, I needed to ensure that we had updated curricula and course materials, well-maintained school facilities, and qualified professors. Even as a college dean, I still needed to keep myself up to date with new IT trends. I learned more about various e-learning and IT technologies, and I continued writing tips and advice for my students.  

Due to some personal constraints, I needed to go back to teaching. To maximize my use of time, I’m working outside school as well, accepting simple home-based jobs that use my skills in IT: data entry, research, writing, website quality assurance, document specification, virtual assistance, and so on.

My experiences showed that with an IT course, jobs are indeed unlimited! There are a lot of job opportunities that, in the beginning, you might have never imagined to be your means to earn a living.

With these stories, many of my students who had been thinking of shifting to a different course were inspired to imagine themselves in various IT work opportunities. In fact, I think that among the accomplishments in my career are students of mine who landed their dream jobs, whether in the IT industry, the academe, or elsewhere: students who have learned to love the course they hated in their first few days of college.


Rose is currently enjoying her teaching profession at Lyceum of Subic Bay while working as a Virtual Assistant and a Web Researcher at Odesk. Her dedication to teaching and her passion for sharing things she knows inspire her to continuously explore and study things relevant to her career.

Ada Lovelace Day linkfest and wrapup

Here’s a quick wrap-up of some posts from Ada Lovelace Day:

Linda Rodriguez wrote about how Ada Lovelace Day came to be, and paradox1x suggested some good reads.

Mellystu wrote about her 4-year-old daughter (who’s using UNIX!), David Parmet wrote about his two daughters. Jennifer Hanen wrote about her mom’s cousin working for NASA.

Speaking of classified work: Zach Copley wrote about Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES).

Sharon celebrated Terri’s contribution at linux.conf.au, and Peter wrote about a Sydney IT evangelist. Lisa Damast listed six women shaping the Israeli technology industry. Red Bean wrote about a cryptographic researcher in China.

Leah Culver wrote about Valerie Aurora (among others), who wrote about being encouraged by the fact that there are female kernel programmers like Pauline Middlelink. Karen Quinn Fung (one of my inspirations!) wrote about Leigh Honeywell (also one of my inspirations!), who salutes the Ubuntu Women.

Julia Roy listed a number of social media geeks who have touched her life, and Jasmin Tragas wrote about a nonprofit social media consultant. Gabe Wachob wrote about a lawyer who focuses on the public interest. Jerry wrote about a number of thought leaders he admires.

SusanT wrote about the teachers in her personal learning network, and Janet Clarey lists a number of edubloggers.

And a shout-out goes to Tania Samsonova who included me in her list, along with lots of inspiring people including her mother-in-law (who keeps trying to teach Tania’s boys assembler… over the phone… in Russian…), Joey de Villa who included me in his list of Toronto tech women, RTFVerterra who likes my Drupal posts, and Clair Ching (another one of my friends! =) ), who shared some tidbits from our adventures. (Remember the random Japanese cat phrase? ;) )

… and if you want a huge list, check out The Ada Lovelace Day Collection – 1091 posts and counting!

The Enchantress of Numbers; Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is the first Ada Lovelace Day, dedicated to the celebration of women in technology. =)

It’s interesting to think about the history of gender and computers. Ada Lovelace‘s work in writing algorithms and imagining the many applications of computers beyond simply crunching numbers. When computers first came into the workplace, computing was seen as a pink-collar job because it resembled the secretarial work that women did. Then the tide changed, and things progressed to the point where countless research papers were written about the gender imbalance in computer science and related fields. What was it about computing that was driving women away?

Now, perhaps, it’s shifting closer to balance, and that makes me happy.

I remember growing up on the networks, and then the Internet. My ambiguously-gendered name and my technical skill led a number of people to assume I was male, to the great amusement of people who knew otherwise. Upon people’s discovery that I was actually female, I’d often get hit on. At technical conferences, there were never lines for the women’s bathroom, sometimes I was the only female in the session, and female speakers were rare. Being female in a male-dominated field had its perks: on overseas programming competitions, I usually got a room to myself.

And yes, there was that niggling feeling of doubt that people found my early achievements disproportionately notable because of my gender, because I knew many brilliant people who didn’t get the opportunities I stumbled across. The imposter syndrome has many different shades.

To this day, I still get personal e-mail addressed “Dear Sir:” (and I’m not talking about the 419 scams, but people applying for positions or asking me for help). I still have people surprised to hear my (obviously female) voice when we talk on the phone. I still find myself reflexively checking the proportion of attendees and speakers at the conferences I go to.

I learned never to make gender assumptions in my speech and in my writing, and to enjoy turning other people’s assumptions upside down. (That’s one of the reasons I have a picture on my website.) I still come across technical documentation written exclusively with male pronouns, and it’s difficult to stifle the urge to rewrite it using plurals or alternating examples.

It’s a lot better than it used to be, though. I don’t have to worry as much about people hitting on me or misinterpreting what I say, although I don’t know whether that’s because the culture is changing, because I’ve developed ways to head things off before they get to that point, or because I tend to hang out with older people who are already in good relationships.

I’ve been very lucky. My parents made sure that we never thought of computers or other things as a “guy thing”. Growing up with two sisters who were both out there and doing cool things helped, too. I had plenty of role models, and I still do.

Not everyone has that kind of environment. No matter what gender you are, keep an eye out for people who might be excluded from your field of work. Sometimes it’s a little thing like lack of confidence leading to a wider and wider digital divide. Sometimes it’s a big thing, like an environment where picking on people is acceptable (and it shouldn’t be). We can be better people than that. =)

Industry showcase at U of T

Via Greg Wilson: Check out the computer industry showcase at the University of Toronto from 4 – 6 PM on Tuesday, September 5. Confirmed attendees:

I’m looking forward to the showcase and to the pub night afterwards!

If you want your company to be part of the event, you might be able to
get in touch with Greg Wilson through his blog.

By the way, gotta love the tagline for Greg’s blog: “Data is zeroes and
ones — software is zeroes and ones and hard work.”

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Outreach: CompSAt I.T. Literacy Training for Public School Teachers

In Manila and want to help out?

Check out Mark Punzalan’s post:

CompSAt RnD has an I.T. outreach project entitled “I.T. Literacy
Training for Public School Teachers” (what a mouthful!). This is a
project with DISCS and ACED (Ateneo Center for Educational
Development). Through this project, we aim to provide grade school
and high school public school teachers with I.T. literacy training to
help them teach their students about computers. You may not be aware
of it, but a lot of public school teachers have little experience with
computers, and the average Ateneo student probably knows a LOT more
than they do.

We NEED volunteers for the training sessions. Training sessions will
be held every Saturday from 8-12 in the morning at F-227, starting
this Saturday, Dec. 10. DISCS will provide the curriculum for
instruction (simple stuff like using Word, Excel, the Internet, etc.)
and possibly refreshments.

We only need two volunteers every Saturday. We’re sorely lacking in
volunteers. If you want to help out, please contact me via email or
mobile phone (see my contact details below). We will be having a
meeting this Wednesday at 4:30 PM, venue TBA (probably at Faura). You
can drop by even if you don’t notify me, but it’d be better if you let
me know beforehand. Feel free to ask your friends to help out. More
volunteers are very much welcome! :-)

Thanks, and have a nice day!

Mark C. Punzalan
Vice President for Research and Development
The Computer Society in the Ateneo
[email protected]

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E-Mail from Mark Punzalan

Changing patterns of computing

I managed to leave my laptop at home today! =) That forced me to be
productive all day. See how many papers I finished!
I also worked on setting up a blog on lingon, a Windows NT server in the lab, but I botched when I restarted the computer remotely and didn’t make sure I could get back in. Apparently, the remote login service doesn’t automatically start after the computer finishes booting. The computer in question is physically located near my cubicle, but—alack!—the door is locked and I still don’t have access. Oh well, there’s next week.

Well, at least I sorted out my office productivity thing… =)

Now that I have Internet access at home, I can play around with my
social schedule a bit. Main catching-up-with-everyone time is
Saturday, 8 – 10 AM my time (8 – 10 PM in the Philippines). My
username on Skype is sachachua , and it’s
easy to set up voice chats with several people. Fun!

Tomorrow, I’ll be online from 8 – 9 AM. I’m planning to go to the
Ontario Science Centre. Whee! Fun! =) I’ll be sure to write about it.
Then I’ll prepare my first Toastmasters speech and work on my On
Campus article. I’ll probably grab my laptop and head to the
park… =)

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