Encouraging Diversity in Tech for Future Generations

Encouraging Diversity in Tech for Future Generations

Takeaways from Our Partnership with McKissack Middle School

By Stephanie Johnson and Lisa French

The Stratasan team was honored to partner with McKissack Middle School and the Nashville Technology Council (NTC) for a “Traveling Tech Day.” Pictured below are members of the Stratasan team with the McKissack teachers and students who participated.

TechDay

During their four hour visit with our team, students were able to engage in the following:

  • Office tour and team introductions
  • Improv icebreaker that demonstrated how better products and services are created when we listen to and build upon the ideas of others
  • Exercise in turning ideas into sellable and supportable products
  • Lunch where members of the Stratasan team joined and shared what they do and how they got to where they are

In this post, we’ll share our key learnings and the takeaways that make us hopeful for a more diverse future in tech.

Key Takeaways from our Tech Day

Takeaway 1: Presenting Complex Ideas in a Fun, Interactive Way is the Best Way to Reach Young Minds  

It takes thoughtfulness to describe what we do at Stratasan in a way that is accessible to people unfamiliar with the healthcare and/or tech industry. Common internal lingo can leave outsiders confused. To overcome this, our team was intentional to create exercises that would engage students with ideas they could relate to.

The students were led through an exercise of identifying their most hated chore. They were asked to identify why they hate it and what they could do to automate it. This process was broken down into several steps:

  • Step 1: Clarify the Problem 
    • Discuss different chores 
    • Define why a better solution is needed
    • Select one chore to solve
  • Step 2: Brainstorm/Ideate Solutions
  • Step 3: Development
    • Let students design solutions individually then share
    • Think about where things may go wrong or how to improve
    • Decide what type of materials would be used
  • Step 4: Implementation 
    • Finalize the product/service
    • Who will buy it?
    • How will we sell it? 
    • How will it be produced?

The McKissick students landed on the idea of a robot to do the work for them. They had to define what it would do, how it would do it, what it would look like, how they would sell it, who they would sell it to, what the price would be, and identify potential problems. Through this exercise, they were challenged to collaborate, ideate, listen, and learn from each other. All of these skills are critical in our day-to-day work at Stratasan and it was much easier to talk to them about what we do after having worked through this exercise.

This exercise provided the opportunity to discuss how to address common challenges of working as a team such as allowing room for quieter, but equally valuable voices to contribute. The team at Stratasan is a mix of personalities and we’ve learned how to work together. We were able to pass this insight on to the students, making sure quieter kids had the opportunity to speak too.  

This exercise was also an opportunity for us to introduce our core values, sharing them with the kids as guidelines for how to interact with each other. It was fun to see them take these values to heart and reference them on their own as the day went on. 

Takeaway 2: ALL Company Functions are “Tech Opportunities” 

All job functions and roles at Stratasan are interdependent—we can’t design a product without an idea, code a product without a design, sell or market without a developed product. We need people to support our clients and ensure they have a great experience. All of this will drive sales and enable our business to grow. Describing our work in this way, we were able to share with the students how all jobs at Stratasan are, in a way, a “tech jobs.” Even roles such as sales and marketing, which may not traditionally be considered tech jobs, are all interconnected and important for Stratasan’s success. 

The “chore” exercise demonstrated how many minds and skill sets were needed to create a product, bring it to market, and successfully sell it. Technology product development is something that involves the whole staff at Stratasan—from developers to designers to sales and customer success. Many diverse jobs are needed achieving success (or “making money” as the students put it).

This message seemed to resonate with the students in a profound way. As Stratasan team members shared their degrees and the paths they had taken to arrive at their current positions, it was clear that no one way was the right way to achieve a job in the tech space.  The students were encouraged by the vast array of opportunities opening before them. 

Takeaway 3: Middle Schoolers Ask Really Great (and Sometimes Uncomfortable) Questions 

McKissack Middle School was the first Nashville middle school to participate in this type of outing. Organizers were hesitant, unsure if this age group would be good receptacles of what we shared. We took this insight to heart and tried to be prepared for anything the students might throw our way. We were intentional ito be supportive and give them room to ideate, leading with the assurance that there were no dumb ideas.

While some of their questions were silly, they led to good conversations. “Did you party in college?” lead to a discussion about how they were responsible for attending class and doing their homework. It’s on them to put in the work and earn good grades. Questions about our salaries, which our team felt was likely motivated by their interest in securing financial stability, allowed us to encourage them to stay focused and disciplined in their studies. Hard work and a good degree can pay off. 

Discussions were as varied as they were informative. We compared our data scientist role to the algorithm Netflix uses to determine what shows to suggest to a viewer. Our lunch conversations included a review of kids who had successfully built their own businesses. And the feedback they shared on the hottest new apps was informative for our marketing team. In summary, Facebook is out, Instagram is still hip, and the new craze is Tik Tok. 

As we ran through the “chores” exercises, our team noted challenges they were personally facing through stories they shared. This lead to a productive discussion about how they will always face challenges, but they are truly capable of anything. They are at an age where they can choose which path to take and to not give up on any dreams.  

 

Our Hope for the Future of Tech

In the hands of students such as these, we have a bright future in the world of tech, one that will hopefully be more diverse. Our learnings included the following:

  • There is opportunity for diversity in many areas, including gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, size, nationality, sexual orientation, ability level, neurotype, religion, elder status, family structure, culture, subculture, political opinion, identity, and self-identification.
  • Even as more people come to the table, we must be intentional to create psychologically safe spaces for new ideas to be presented. 
  • More inclusive products will be developed as more diverse ideas are acknowledged. 
  • We at Stratasan have the ability to influence students by listening, talking, teaching and staying involved. McKissack is right in our backyard and it’s our plan to stay involved through work shadowing or junior internship programs, as we are officially in partnership with their STEAM program. 

With about 75% employee engagement this time around, our team is looking forward to the next opportunity to connect with these students. Without a doubt our time with them is equally as enriching for us as it is for them. 

Article by Stephanie Johnson, SVP of Customer Success and NTC Board Member, and Lisa French, Senior Front End Engineer for Stratasan

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