As the Application Development Manager at Neovation Learning Solutions, I make it a point to keep up with the events and news from our local tech industry association, Tech Manitoba (TechMB). After co-hosting an Ask Me Anything Expert series on Accessibility in the Workplace, the TechMB Youth Programming manager reached out to me to see if I would be willing to be a mentor for the Pembina Trails Early College ( PTEC) program, assisting students as they worked on an industry-based project. I was also able to speak to a separate class in the program about accessibility and inclusion in the tech industry, along with a fellow Neovite.
My background is as a developer — I took programming courses in high school and eventually the Computer Analyst/Programer (now Business Information Technology) program at Red River College — and while I enjoyed what I was doing in the classroom, I was never quite certain how it would translate to an actual, real, adult job.
Additionally, as one of only two women in my course, it would have been immensely valuable to speak to a woman who was already out there working a programming or technical job. As I've advanced in my career, I've always kept this desire in mind, and jump at any chance to speak to younger people of all ages about technology careers — which aren't always what you might expect.
The PTEC mentor program is a well-oiled machine, even with the extra complications of the pandemic and changes to in-person schooling that affected the students in the middle of our mentoring period. Each mentor filled out a survey well in advance of the program, outlining our backgrounds, experience and interests, which were used to create the groups of mentors and students. The program coordinator was aiming to have both technical and project management experience represented from the mentor side, and then also matched the mentors to the interests of the students, whether that was app development or cyber security.
We were all initially introduced to our groups via email, and the students provided links to their Github profiles so we could get a sense for their interests and existing knowledge. There was a mentor orientation session before we met with the students for the first time, and our regular weekly meetings were adaptable to the needs of both the students and the mentors.
In working with the students I was impressed from the beginning — their idea of an augmented reality app to "place" furniture in customer's homes prior to purchase was a great one. Who hasn't bought a couch or coffee table sight unseen, especially during the pandemic, and then realized it doesn't quite fit where you thought it would? The students were exceptionally organized, and also very open and receptive to the tips and ideas we were providing, based on our experiences. There were of course some hiccups — we were meeting virtually, and then with only a couple of weeks to go, the students had to switch from a hybrid schedule to one fully at home with all the equipment issues and troubleshooting that comes along with that kind of upheaval.
Seeing the way the students approached their project was a great way to reinforce how we work every day at Neovation. Everyone comes into a project with different backgrounds, experiences and knowledge levels, and we try to get as much of that into a room (virtual or otherwise) together to create the best products and services we possibly can. Seeing it happen in our little group of students and mentors over such a short period of time is a testament to the PTEC approach and the value the program brought to all of us.
I really enjoyed my mentorship experience, and I would love to do it again next year — maybe even in person! I always think of the quote "we can't be what we can't see", and I hope that programs like this as well as other volunteer and speaking opportunities I've been lucky to be a part of, help at least one student see what they can be 5, 10, 15 years in the future.