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A Career Talk for 1st Graders

By Steph Skardal
December 6, 2019

Steph giving a career talk Giving a Career Talk to 1st Graders

This week, I gave a career talk to my daughter’s 1st grade class and I talked about my job as a software engineer. I started with this video, which depicts two kids explaining to their dad how to make a peanut butter sandwich (called the “Exact Instructions Challenge”), but he takes them very literally and acts as though he has no context on how to work with peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The video got some giggles!

After the video, I talked about how the video was similar to what I do: I give computers instructions, and like that silly dad, computers don’t know anything about what they are being told to do. I hope they understood the analogy!

I have 5 Alexas!

We talked about what a computer is and how we all have a lot of computers at our house (“I have 5 Alexas at my house!”, “I have a PS4!”, “I have a PS2!”), even some that can turn the lights on and off now. I didn’t show them code because I didn’t think it would mean much to them, but a couple of the kids in the class had worked on kid-friendly coding projects.

I talked a little bit about my education (1st graders aren’t quite sure what this “college” thing is), and how I work from home. We talked about how I problem-solve, just like they do — right before the talk started, their teacher asked them to problem-solve so that everyone could have a chair! I explained that sometimes I problem-solve and figure out what the fastest way to do something is, or what another solution might be, but it might last longer. We also talked about how communication (reading and writing) are important in my job, so they should keep working on that!

Q&A

The best part of the talk was Q&A, because I was able to understand what was in their big kid brains! Here are some of the questions I fielded:

  • Do you give computers instructions in 1s and 0s? How do you do that? How do computers understand 1s and 0s? I tried to explain this a little bit by talking about different languages (a couple of the kids speak additional languages), but I think I failed on that front. :shrug:
  • Do you spend “like all the time on computers”? Or “all the time staring at a computer ALL DAY”?!!
  • Do you stop hackers trying to get into computers? How do you stop hackers? I explained that I had to think about how hackers might try to work and ways to stop them, and made an analogy that it’s like locking the door to keep your little sister out of your room.
  • How many hours a day do you work? I explained that right now I work half-time, but that before Astrid (my 1st grader in the class) was born, I worked 8 hours per day, like many of their parents might do now.
  • Do you find bugs in code? I answered that we call it “debugging”, and they knew what that meant because they use that terminology in library! I also said I squashed bugs, and they thought that was hilarious.

Overall, it was a fun experience! A couple of the kids at the end said that, “they still didn’t understand what [I do]”. I hope I added to their huge kid imaginations in answering questions about hackers and binary code and encouraged them to problem solve in the future!

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