Speed networking for Growing Talent Digital Leeds

Marcus, our developer, spent the day at Dixons Trinity Chapeltown in Leeds to help attract the next generation of digital talent with Ahead Partnership.

Turning a bad morning into a great day

I arrived at Dixons Trinity Chapeltown and met with the coordinator before the event to discuss the rules, like no pictures, guidance on how to handle salary questions and what the purpose of the event was.

Once that was out of the way and I felt comfortable, myself and other volunteers were ready for the students to join us.

The students entered the room and sat in groups. I spotted a free chair where I could sit.As soon as I sat down, the chair snapped beneath me, and I was on the ground in a room full of year nine (13-14-year-old) students looking down at me and trying not to laugh. Talk about making an entrance!

Speed Networking begins

After picking myself up and fending off everyone’s lovely offers to help and questions if I was okay, I gingerly sat down on a different chair. I turned to the eight students around me and saw them trying to stop sniggering. I invited them to laugh at me. “It’s okay, you can laugh, it was funny.” I thought it would have the effect of relaxing the situation, but it was the opposite. I had sixteen eyes on me, sizing me up, trying to decide whether I was being serious or sarcastic.

There were some shy smiles, but no one spoke or laughed. They were a quiet and reserved bunch, so I knew I had my work cut out.  

I looked oneof the students in the eye and asked, “How are you doing today?” They replied,“I’m fine, sir.”

“Sir.” It's a bit formal for my liking. It wasn’t that formal with teachers in America, where I’m from, but my wife tells me this is common practice in England.

I looked at the next student and asked again, “How are you?” They answered, “I’m fine, sir.” I took a brief second with each of them, making eye contact and asking the same question.  

A few of them giggled instead of responding. I teased them a little by saying, “Oh my word, he’s talking to me. It’s so embarrassing,” to lighten the mood.  

Once I got around the group, I asked, “What can I do for you today?”

Building rapport

The first question was, “Where are you from?” I replied, “I’m from California.”

An over simplification, but it’s true. I’ve lived in four states and the UK over the last decade. It’s been a busy ten years for me. But I grew up in California, and my wife says that makes me sound cool. I wanted the students to think that, too.  

They asked me a couple more follow-up questions. These questions were decidedly not about my career. But they mattered. They helped us to bond. They built rapport. Trust. Kinship. Or, at the very least, interest.

We were now ready to discuss my career, and the questions started to flow.  

The joy of problem-solving

I spoke of being a developer, writing code, and how I was tasked with making a computer program do something different.

I explained every bit of my job is like figuring out a massive puzzle, using my brain to solve problems. I shared how it’s okay to try and fail at things, and you don’t always get it right the first time. And the importance of involving teammates in problem-solving by getting their advice and support, as well as doing your own research.

The internet is a great place to find information to develop a solution. It can be frustrating when you develop something that doesn’t work. But when it does, it’s a great feeling and one of the things I enjoy most about my role.  

Being prepared to ‘sell yourself’

One of the other questions the students asked was, “What should I do to prepare for an interview?” I explained that it’s a great opportunity to sell yourself and consider your strengths and what you can bring to a role.  

Speaking to diverse students

During speed networking, I got to speak to seven different groups of students. It was great to understand their varied interests.  

I had a chance to catch up at the beginning, during breaks, and at the end with my colleague Natasa Fragkou, who has worked with Aire Logic and volunteered withAhead Partnership far longer than I had to get her thoughts on how she thought things were going.  

A fulfilling experience

The only word I can think of to describe how I felt and continue to feel about the experience is “fulfilling.” It felt good in the purest sense of the word. I hope I connected with at least one student, helped to demystify what it’s like working in tech and made their day better.

I’m grateful that Aire Logic enabled me to volunteer during work hours, paying me to do something I would gladly do for free.

If you’d like to know more about Growing Talent Digital Leeds, check out how we’re addressing the digital skills gap with Ahead Partnership.