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.

What’s the value proposition of a student?

One of the reasons why I’ve never quite felt comfortable in
networking-focused events is that the value proposition of a student
is hard to define. Deal-oriented people will probably overlook me
because I can’t offer them immediate value. What can I offer people?
What’s my value proposition?

I don’t have much business experience yet, and as geeky as I can be
sometimes, I’m not as into technology as are people I know. Why should
people want to spend time with me?

I’m a student, a wannabe, an apprentice of life. Right now, I can’t
really offer anything. No, that’s not entirely true. I bring my
comfort with technology, my experience of being alien (in a good way),
my passion and enthusiasm and peace. Perhaps I also offer people an
opportunity to pay back their own mentors for all the opportunities
they’ve received, too.

It’s silly of me to doubt life, considering how I’ve been so, so, so
lucky in the past. At conferences and conventions, I’ve always managed
to sit beside or otherwise discover people who totally inspire me. I
don’t deserve any of the breaks, but I should learn how to make the
most of them so that I can share the benefits with other people.

I’m hungry for more knowledge, more learning, more connections. I’m
excited and interested and alive. Maybe that’s my value proposition
for now – not that I’m some subject matter expert or anything, but
that I’m curious. I should learn how to ask good questions and how to
get to the heart of things. I also want to learn how to tell stories
and write articles and books…

Other things: Hmm… I need to know who’s who. Note to self: add
business magazines to my weekly diet. That’s what access to the
university library and the dorm reading room gets me. And I _should_
take advantage of the library. We have access to all these journals
and educational resources that businesses don’t have. I should take
advantage of that! Maybe that’s part of the value I offer, too.

I can take risks. I can spend time learning about something that
eventually pans out. I can try different things and get to know
different people. Maybe that’s part of it, too.

Hmm…

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Random Japanese sentence: 私たちは庭でかわいそうな小さな猫を見つけた。 We found a poor little cat in the yard.