Karen Swyszcz 0:00
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Bacon Bits and Bytes Podcast. And for today I have with me Nicole Chen and Dennis Linkov from Tech Under 20. Dennis is a team lead at Tech Under 20, a software developer and a future of work advocate. He works with youth and organizations to plan careers and next steps to adapt to the changing world. Nicole Chen is an entrepreneurial business student passionate about inspiring people by her voices and experience. Nicole is a VP program marketing and chapter leader at Tech Under 20. So welcome to the show, guys. Thanks for being here.
Denys Linkov 1:05
Great to be here.
Karen Swyszcz 1:07
Let’s get right into it. So first question I’d like to ask you is how did Tech Under 20 start? What was the reasoning behind it?
Denys Linkov 1:14
For sure. So I can answer that question. So how I got involved with Tech Under 20 sort of connects to the original goal was the community in Halton didn’t have a way to connect students together interested in technology and business. So I heard about Tech Under 20 from a teacher of mine, based on the first event that was being run, which was a student hiring event. And this was four years ago. And this was one of the first events that Tech Under 20 ran. And from them, I heard about the event. And I thought it would be a great opportunity to join. And this was sort of a turning point in the community where we brought people from different schools together to showcase some of their projects and pitch to employers and local mentors about all the things that students are capable of. So there’s a lot of interesting discussions there. And since then, four years ago, we’ve tried to grow the community to accommodate students’ needs and expectations and really try to build a stronger youth community.
Karen Swyszcz 2:20
Awesome. So I know you guys are doing a lot of great things such as the career event you had this past weekend. What other initiatives you guys have taking place?
Nicole Chen 2:30
So including Learn To Get Hired that we just finished last weekend, we also have C3 conference end of September. We have the main event called Tech Under 20 Cup, which is an entrepreneur competition in December. And we also have, okay Policy in Technology, so that’s happening in November. So basically, we have four events throughout the year.
Karen Swyszcz 2:56
Okay, so those events, Okay, cool, why is TU20 a life-changing experience?
Nicole Chen 3:02
So I really want to talk about this because I feel Tech Under 20 really is like a changing point in my life. So I joined Tech Under 20, like a year ago, and at that time, I was like a student, really looking for more opportunity. And I know at a time like for me in my school community and my like circle, I couldn’t really meet as many people that I want to look for, like those people who are really having good skills, who are having passionate about some technology and entrepreneurship, because that’s also my passion. So coincidentally, I just joined Tech Under 20. And I really find that I can find my voice in that organization. And from then I really just contribute my time and energy and also learn so much from my community and the peers that I’m working for it. And also I really benefited from the opportunity that I am presented to.
So I get my co-op placement from the network in Tech Under 20. And I also get my really great work experience from there. So I feel like looking back to me a year ago, I really feel that I changed so much. So that’s why I feel really thankful to Tech Under 20. And I feel this is truly a life-changing opportunity for me to join Tech Under 20.
Karen Swyszcz 4:21
Awesome. It sounds like it provided you with a lot of opportunities. And I’m looking back I was in high school quite some time ago. But I wish I knew of this or something like this existed when I was in high school. So with respect to the organization, I know they’re divided into chapters Do you mind explaining a little bit more how it’s structured?
Denys Linkov 4:39
Sure. So the way we think about Tech Under 20 is we have the core organization that organizes some of the big events as Nicole talked about. But the real way to connect with students and make sure students feel that they’re a part of something is really taking the initiatives and events to them. So right now we have eight High School chapters, which are clubs within high schools, where students bring in speakers.
We have a curriculum to learn about technology and entrepreneurship. And the goal is really to bring the school closer together, but also bring different schools closer together as well. So for example, one of the challenges I faced in high school a couple of years ago was that if you have a computer science club at one school, and a computer science club in another school, they would very rarely meet and discuss and work on projects together. So at the school level, the goal is how do we strengthen the ties within the school, but also between schools that are just down the road from each other. So the chapter program is really trying to get students involved at a sort of smaller community level. And then we bring them all together for all the bigger events that Tech Under 20 runs.
Karen Swyszcz 4:40
So with respect to being an executive, and then with respect to being a member, how is that different?
Nicole Chen 5:52
So for me, I am also the member as well as an executive. And I do feel like Tech Under 20 is doing incredible things. So mentioning their events, you know that it’s all like organized by students. And we do get some help from our network, but the majority of the things are done by students. So as a member of Tech Under 20, when I just joined, I am actually fascinated by events that they’re hosting, the three or four events right now are actually really providing value to students and giving them the opportunity to showcase themselves and turn their ideas into reality. So the most fascinating thing is that these are all organized by students.
So as I’m involved as an executive, I know that like my actions, and my ideas can actually contribute to my community and also the growth of that. So I feel like the best thing as an executive and also a member is that I can see how my effort is actually contributing to that event, and making things as successful, and also helping out the students in the community. So as a person who contributes and also benefits, I felt really proud and feeling like this organization is actually very potential and having so many young students who are helping out and making sure that the organization is running smoothly is really a great pleasure.
Karen Swyszcz 7:22
I’m curious to know how both of you manage, you know, being in Tech Under 20 and then also being a full-time student as well. Like, do you have any tips regarding like time management?
Denys Linkov 7:32
For sure. So it’s always a challenge when you try to get involved in many things. And the main thing for me is managing three things. So the first is energy levels. And this is sort of the knowing about yourself, and what energizes you and what drains you. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t think about too much. So for example, when I’m working on a coding project, for example, four hours of coding is going to exhaust one part of my brain. But after an hour of say, doing a planning meeting all I’ll be replenished. Even though it’s work, it’s a different type of work. And it sort of balances out the energy that’s required for different tasks.
The second thing is really planning your time well in chunks. So for example, it’s very difficult to think about a problem deeply if you only take 15 minutes to do so. So when dealing with harder problems that I really need to pay attention to whether it’s a difficult homework assignment, or really trying to plan out, say a Tech Under 20 Strategy for the next year. The goal is to allocate a large amount of time when something requires a little bit less focus, such as answering some emails or sending a link to somebody that can be done in very small short chunks. So when I have a large block of time, I really try to get that more complicated work done. And when I have shorter chunks of time, it’s sort of the smaller work.
The last thing is, is really trying to group things together. And using a calendar for that is very helpful. So for example, when I’m moving between Toronto where I go to university and Oakville, where I work on Tech Under 20 things, it’s trying to group things together. So taking the GO train takes some time. So I could schedule a catch-up meeting with a team member on Tech Under 20 while on the train. While here, I tried to schedule meetings back to back that are happening in Oakville, so that I’m not just here for one meeting, I’m here for a number of different events. So it’s really grouping and managing that time so that there’s not a lot of time wasted. And that’s something that I think everybody continues to work on and improve on. And I think those three things are really essential to balancing a busy day.
Nicole Chen 9:50
Yeah, so I definitely agree with Dennis. And for me, I also think high school students can actually get some group work experience, that means that you can get a partner when you are working on some extra curriculum tasks. Like for me, I currently have younger students that I’m mentoring. So we split the task and based on her skills, and also my planning we’ll be working together. So for example, when we’re doing a social media post, usually I will do the strategy part and she will be doing the graphic and the other parts that she’s good at. So for us to actually increase our efficiency. So it’s just some of my tips for some high school students who haven’t tried that.
Karen Swyszcz 10:36
Yeah, no, I definitely agree with you guys. This is some really great tips. And I definitely swear by time blocking and if I’m yeah, I set aside certain chunks of time for podcasts recording and blog posts writing and then Dennis, you had mentioned taking the GO train. And I’m the same way like I see people on their phones looking at stuff. But for me, I’ll either be listening to like a podcast episode or reading a book or taking some notes trying to use your time efficiently is definitely the best method. Okay, so Dennis, in your bio, you mentioned that you’re a soft or sorry, I mentioned that you’re a software developer some I’m curious, how did that start? How did you get into that? Was it something you’ve been doing for quite some time, or you just recently got into?
Denys Linkov 11:17
For sure, so my whole life, I’ve been interested in building things at first starting off with Lego and other sort of toys. And eventually, I outgrew them and was figuring out a way on how do I build interesting things. And what programming and developing software allows you to do is it gives you this world with unlimited possibilities. You can build anything you want to accomplish almost any problem. And I found that very empowering and the capability to do that was very exciting.
So I started programming in grade nine. And it was an interesting summer when I was teaching myself, the original goal was to try to make a simple little video game that I could play and it had a number of challenges that I wasn’t expecting. But after the summer, it was something that I was really interested in, I saw the power of programming. So since then, I’ve been working on a number of different projects evolving from video games to mobile applications to more business applications. And sort of throughout the summers and my schooling, I’ve been trying to develop the skills, so I can really apply myself to some very challenging and interesting problems.
Karen Swyszcz 12:30
Do you think there are certain characteristics that are common amongst coders?
Denys Linkov 12:37
So I think when we talk about coders, the typical image that comes to mind is somebody sitting in a basement with a beard. And fortunately, those aren’t the skills that are required, you don’t need a beard to be a good coder. But the skills are, are there a number of skills, so some of the ones that people typically think of are being good at math or logic, and that’s certainly important.
But two other skills that are critical that people don’t typically associate with programmers are the ability to deconstruct a program. So when you’re writing a program to solve a problem, it’s very important to take that challenge that you have and break it down into small and reliable pieces, and start working on that. And at the same time, when things aren’t working, you have to be very methodical, you have to say, Okay, these are the different components of my program, which ones can break? And then you sort of search through all the different options that lead to something not working, and you have to be very diligent at that. And that’s a skill people typically forget about is that not everything works on the first time, in anything in life. And in programming, it’s even harder because you’re talking to a computer, trying to make it solve some complicated problem. So that’s really important, being diligent and being thorough.
The third part is communication skills. They’re so important. So one of the challenges of why people don’t see communication as being super important in programming is that in school, a lot of the times you learn on your own, you’re building your own project. But in the real world, what happens is that your team is given a problem, and based on the skills of your team, you have to solve it. So you get some initial requirements, and then somebody on the team might help break those down, somebody else might specialize in the graphics, somebody else might specialize in the data. And you work with that team to really develop that project.
So I think that those communication skills are so critical, both communicating with people directly. So these are some of the challenges are facing, this is when I need help, but also informally through your code. So there’s this term called spaghetti code, where it looks like when somebody was writing the code, they just sort of dumped a bowl of spaghetti on to the keyboard, and it just doesn’t look nice and elegant. And what you want to do is you want to write code that’s neat and organized. So if somebody looks at it, and in the end, later on when they have to change it or update it, it’s just very clear on what you’re trying to do. So those communication skills are so critical. And it’s one of those things that you don’t really understand how important they are until they’re not there. When you try to read messy code, or when you’re trying to understand unclear requirements, that’s when your day becomes very difficult and you wish those skills were present.
Karen Swyszcz 15:47
Interesting. Um, I’ve taken a few coding workshops back in my day, and I remember them stressing with respect to the code being organizing is to indent, and then also having descriptive comments.
Denys Linkov 15:59
Commenting is key. If you don’t comment, you yourself will forget what the code does, because you had a moment of brilliance. And then two months later, you look at it and you’re like, what was I doing? So you really need to comment the code for your own benefit, but also everybody else who’s going to be working with that?
Karen Swyszcz 16:16
Awesome. Alright, so I like to switch gears a little bit and talk about high school students, and then moving on to choose careers. So what are some things that high school students should know about before choosing a career?
Denys Linkov 16:29
So the main thing that I would say is actually understanding what the career is. So typically, when students look at careers, it’s a fairly shallow understanding of what it really is. So sometimes their parents will recommend some careers that bring stability or prestigious. And that’s a great start to have a recommendation from parents or friends.
But then the question is, what does that job really do? So a lot of students, let’s take the example of a doctor think that doctors are there saving lives every day, if they go actually see what happens at a walk-in clinic, where a lot of doctors are actually practicing, they’ll notice that there’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of times where the doctors just tell somebody to go home and get rest. And that’s not the glorious side of being a doctor. And that’s not what they sort of tell you about in high school. So that’s one thing is just really understanding what that job actually does. And that can be done through job shadowing, or talking to people in the field. And I think that’s so so important because you don’t want to be making a decision based on what you see on TV, or what somebody told you that wasn’t based in reality.
The second thing is, I think it’s important to consider not where the career or the job was, or is but where it’s going. So for example, why I think everybody should learn some key skills and technology. And entrepreneurship is because I feel that’s where the working world is heading. So if we look at another common profession say, being a lawyer, a lot of the work is reading through cases, trying to find some precedence and analyzing what’s happening. And a lot of that work is easily automated by tools such as AI, that can scan through and give you suggestions. And if everybody’s thinking that lawyers are going to have a lot of jobs in the future, they might. But that’s up to you to make that decision, knowing where the profession is going based on the evolution of technology, and this the evolution of the sort of career path socially. So I think that’s something really important to think about because the world is changing very quickly. And you don’t want to end up in a career where the job changes significantly since the last time you sort of started down that career path.
Karen Swyszcz 18:53
Mm-hmm. So you mentioned your response that students should learn some key skills and technology and entrepreneurship, can you describe any, like specific skills that they should look into learning?
Denys Linkov 19:04
For sure. So on the technology side, usually when people talk about technology, they talk about coding skills, so everybody should take an introductory coding class. And I agree with that, I think it’s very important to understand how sort of the coding side of things work, how do you can communicate with the computer. And there’s definitely a lot of applicable skills with that. And I think one of the key things that people will benefit from is understanding how to use data. So whether it’s an Excel or various other programming languages, such as Python, or Arc, you want to be able to take a chunk of data and take an action from it.
So whether you’re doing marketing to understand who your audience is and what they’re looking for. Whether you’re a doctor to understand some of the reasons why your patient wait times are longer. So being able to look at that data and analyze it and having a computer help you do that as well, really important.
The second aspect is more sort of understanding of how technology impacts the world. So a lot of times people take an Intro To Coding class, and then they think that’s it. That’s what software development is. And that’s a part of it. But it’s also understanding sort of how technology can solve problems. So these concepts are a little bit higher level where you don’t actually need to write the code, but it’s understanding how the pieces fit together.
Karen Swyszcz 20:25
Denys Linkov 20:26
As an example, you have a phone and with the phone, you might message your friend. And the question is, how did that message reach your friend? And from a coding perspective, it’s really complicated, but understanding that the message went through an app that sent that data to a server somewhere in the world, then located your friend and sent the message later on. Understanding those kinds of concepts is really important to understanding what the problems of technology are, and sort of how they can be fixed. So I think that sort of understanding about what technology can do, and what it can’t do is really, really important.
Karen Swyszcz 21:02
And what about skills, like with respect to you say, running a business, starting a business or looking into entrepreneurship?
Denys Linkov 21:08
So what a lot of companies are saying these days is that they want employees to be entrepreneurial. And what I think they mean a lot of the time is that they want employees to have the skills that are required for an entrepreneur to succeed.
So an entrepreneur typically has a blank slate for a day, they need to get some things done, but nobody’s usually telling them what to do. So they need to organize their time and figure out what they need to do to be successful. And if you can do that, as an employee, that’s something fantastic because that puts less pressure on your boss and your teammates on helping you figure out what to do. It’s skills like initiative, and what a lot of people call hustle, which is having that internal motor to keep going and solve problems and do things. So you might have finished the three tasks that you were assigned for that day, you want to keep going. You go search out other problems that you can solve. You help somebody else out. So that sort of initiative and the dedication to keep on going is really important.
And the last thing is sort of managing your career and your project as an entrepreneur that you want it to succeed. So you have to be proactive, you have to be able to think short term. So how am I going to address this next meeting, but also long term? But in three years? Where do I see this product going? Or where do I see myself going? So I think those skills that we typically associate with entrepreneurs are so critical because they can be applied in any part of your life. And it really makes a difference when you can actually do those things that many successful entrepreneurs do.
Nicole Chen 22:38
I would add something to being entrepreneurial. I think for entrepreneurs, what do you got to do is actually to have an active brain that you can think of different new ideas that can be really exciting. And also you have a, we have two hands that can actually execute those ideas and turn that into reality. So I think that some sometimes that can be like contradicted, for example, being rational and being emotional, sometimes can be contradicted. But I think for high school students and great young people it’s necessary to be able to think and be able to act at the same time. So that means you have so many exciting ideas that you want to realize, but you still need to realize that you got to go through all those tedious processes to achieve your dreams. So I think that’s also necessary for young people to know.
Karen Swyszcz 23:29
Yeah, definitely. Since we’re on the topic of entrepreneurship, do you feel like all this talk going on about like STEM and STEAM and entrepreneurship? Do you feel it’s overhyped, or people tend to kind of like glamourize it?
Denys Linkov 23:41
So I think that it depends on what people talk about with respect to STEM and STEAM and entrepreneurship. So at a face level, I think a lot of people just think that this is a cure to everything that if you take a career in STEM or you become an entrepreneur, things are rosy. And I think if that’s the line of thinking, then these subjects are very overhyped. Because there’s obviously challenges and a lot of work that needs to be put in from the perspective of practicality, I think these skills are very important. And as people talk about the future of work these things, these skills, the ability to set up an experiment, as you’d learn in science class sort of handled data, as you would learn in a couple of coding classes, or build something and work on a team to build it in an engineering class. Those things are so important.
And I think sometimes we don’t read in-depth into these subjects. And if we do that, that’s dangerous. But once you sort of start analyzing and understand why these skills are areas are actually being talked about so much, then there’s a lot of substance there. But we can’t make that mistake where you sign up with, with no purpose and decided to do an engineering degree, let’s say and you realize that that’s not for me, that’s something I think that’s dangerous and misleading. But if you look deeper, and you say building things is fantastic, how do I build things? How do I create things? And then find your own path based on those skills. I think that’s what’s really important.
Karen Swyszcz 25:11
Mm-hmm. Yeah, definitely. Just going back to Tech Under 20. I know that you guys have Tech Under 20. fellowships. Do you mind sharing with the audience with those are about and if you can, like what projects are in place?
Denys Linkov 25:22
For sure. So Tech Under 20 fellowships started off as a project last year when within the team, we thought about how cool would it be that we could just give students some money and mentorship and they can build whatever they want?
So that was the initial idea, because students have so many ideas, as Nicole was talking about, the question is, how do you sort of connect that to building something? So last year, we had three projects, that’s five students, and two of them were medical projects. And one of them was an IoT project. So the medical projects were really cool about because they combined sort of the things that I was looking at, they combined people’s desire to be doctors or in the medical profession, with technology. So one example was an app called Pillmate where the team of two they created this application that would help people keep track of their pills and medication to make sure that they’re actually using it properly and being reminded of.
There was another application where students built a concussion detecting app, which would scan your eyes and try to figure out, do you have a concussion based on some of your eye movements? And these projects were very interesting because they combined the sort of technology in medicine.
The third project was actually analyzing traffic patterns and creating a heat map to analyze the movement of vehicles and to help city planners with that. And that was really interesting because it was something very practical and a very practical application of technology. And we didn’t tell the students what to build, we set out sort of project areas. So technology, IoT, data, and students took that with a running start. And obviously, we tried to help them out by connecting them with mentors and potential customers and then giving them some funding to actually work on the projects. And this year, we’re really excited to continue the program, because we got a lot of exciting stuff from last year.
Karen Swyszcz 27:26
That’s awesome. Apparently, students have to like pitch their idea to a panel and how do you guys decide as to whether or not they would be a good fit for this fellowship program?
Denys Linkov 27:36
For sure. So at the beginning, we have an application process where students fill out an application form with their idea why they’re interested in this and describe with some detail of what they want to build. At that point, we really look for students who have thought through their project and are actually committed and doing so because it takes a lot of, as we talked about earlier, entrepreneurial skill to manage your own project with nobody there to sort of tell you what to do.
So we look for an indication that the student is committed and has an interesting project. And then afterward, we do some interviews to really get to know what they’re trying to do. And this is the hardest part of the process because you get students that are so passionate about what they want to build. But you have to make a decision based on the potential of the project and also the potential student to say how am I going to best allocate the money and the mentorship gets a good outcome. And that’s the hardest part of the process because we’ve had to turn down students that have made excellent pitches and were really passionate about what they did. But we always encourage them to stay involved and keep building and seek out other opportunities. And we’re always willing to help because that’s the whole goal of Tech Under 20. We have specific programs, but those are just vehicles to help students succeed. We’re always looking to help students with their projects and such.
Karen Swyszcz 28:56
And if someone was interested in say, becoming a Tech Under 20 executive, what characteristics or what things would you look for in them?
Denys Linkov 29:02
So it’s all the things we talked about today, it’s that that drive to make a difference within their community, the ability to work independently and in a team having the desire to learn because, over this period of time, it’s very difficult as a student to pick up some of the critical skills that are required to be successful. But if you’re willing to learn we’ll bring you to say, meetings with massive companies when we’re negotiating a partnership deal, or help you learn how to code an application that’s similar to what a cool startup would be building. So those opportunities are there. But students have to focus both on the personal development and say, I’m here to learn, I’m here to make a difference. But also on the community side, because we advocate for building a stronger community that helps each other out.
And at the end of the day, we think that it’s important to build yourself as a leader and to develop your career. But at the same time, you really need to build that community because somebody is going to need your help. And we believe that you need to be there for people who are trying to work on things and better the lives of everybody.
Karen Swyszcz 30:14
So if people are interested in learning more about you guys, where can they find you?
Nicole Chen 30:18
So we actually have a website. And also we’re on all social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and will be also developing more in the future. And definitely, all the information can be found on the website or just connect to the local chapters. So that’s for high school students, but it’s definitely good to connect with your chapters and ask the chapter president, note about our alumni and get to know what we’re doing.
Karen Swyszcz 30:45
Awesome. Well, thank you guys so much providing such great insight. This is a really good conversation.
Denys Linkov 30:51
Thank you, Karen, for having us here.
Nicole Chen 30:52
Karen Swyszcz 30:53
No problem. Alright, everyone. So thanks again for tuning in. And stay tuned for more episodes.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai