I had the opportunity to participate in the Great American Teach-In at both of my daughters’ schools this year. The Teach-in provides parents with the opportunity to speak to students about their jobs, exposing them to some cool professions like doctors, fire fighters, soldiers and “senior solutions architects”.
My kids are in elementary school and middle school, and this is the second year I have volunteered for the Teach-In. Let me tell you what a completely different experience it is dealing with 3rd graders and 6th graders. I used the same presentation and the same visuals, but the talks were completely different.
Sixth Grade Talk
How do you describe what a data center is to 11- and 12-year olds? They think that the Internet just lives out in the world somewhere. How do you explain a big room with powerful computers and fiber networks to them? Well…. you don’t really. You talk to them about the importance of places that are secure and will always keep websites up.
Third Grade Talk
Now that you have tried to explain the Internet to 6th graders, try explaining it to 3rd graders. That’s an even greater challenge. What really helped was for the second part of the presentation, I had brought with me a 1U rack mount server. Most people, let alone kids, have never seen what a server looks like.
I also brought a firewall, network switch, copper and fiber optic cables and a few other pieces of “cool” computer equipment. I passed out the cables so they could inspect them, and took the cover off of the server. This simple item was the coolest part in their minds. It’s not often that they get to see what the inside of a computer looks like. And for the grand finale, I powered the server up so they could hear how loud the systems are and how hot they get. I had them imagine what 10,000 servers would feel and sound like. And 25 little minds all went, “Whoa!!!”
Know Your Audience
An unintended benefit of doing talks like this is it forces me to truly consider my audience, their familiarity with the subject matter and their attention span. Think about how this same kind of approach can help in presenting what might be considered dull material to a chief financial officer (CFO)? (Apologies to all the CFOs out there.)
I remember back when I was a kid that we didn’t have adults come in and talk to us about their jobs. There was always the day they brought the fire truck to the school, but that was about it. I get excited about the opportunity to give back to kids now. I feel that it is part of a debt that I owe to all of those who helped me in my career, beginning back when I worked in a university computer lab to when I became the chief technology officer of a company. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have mentors helping me along the way. I will continue to strive to affect people’s lives in a meaningful way.
At Peak 10 Tampa, we always welcome high schools, Junior Achievement programs and local colleges and universities to bring their students to the data center for a lunch-and-learn session. Most people have never, and never will, see a data center or learn how they work. What a great job I have where I get to be a tour guide and show off awesome technology.