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Take up the challenge, ignite IT passion in our youth by tweeting your #YouthSpark on March 18th and beyond.

Have an impact and make a difference by sharing your story on what inspired your interest in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship using the hashtag #YouthSpark.

I recently spoke at the IFIP World CIO Forum and United Nations Global e-Government Forum where I learned that there is a shortage among youth in IT skills. We don’t have enough students entering the field. It is incredibly important to both empower and engage our youth. As noted by Microsoft leading up to YouthSpark Live Vancouver, there is a youth opportunity IT gap between those who have the access, skills and opportunities to be successful and those who do not.  Ultimately this impacts our global economy which is so dependent on a digital economy.

But what is YouthSpark? To address the problem, on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Microsoft Canada and the Boys and Girls Club of Canada will host approximately 100 local youth for a day-long skills development and mentorship conference in Vancouver, BC with participation from Pathways to EducationSHAD and Ladies Learning Code. Joining the event will be Government Ministers Hon. Shirley Bond and Hon. Andrew Wilkinson, Vancouver North MP Andrew Saxton, Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, Namir Anani President & CEO ICTC Canada, Greg Kyllo MLA for Shuswap and many more notable guests.

The faces of YouthSpark are remarkable, and will be at the event. Who are they? Molly Burke from Me to We, shared her story with me earlier this past week—she will keynote as a compelling role model. At four-years‐old, Molly was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, causing loss of vision. Molly began public speaking at the age of five and since has faced her challenges (bullying, depression) and lives by the motto: Live, learn and pass it on. Molly takeaways for young people are, “The thing is, what people need to realize is you have the power to change the world no matter what age you are. I started public speaking and fundraising when I was just 5 years old and everybody has the ability to do that. We all have the strength within us to stand up for what we believe in.”

Sage Franch, a YouthSpark Ambassador and computer science major at Dalhousie University is working to address the youth opportunity divide at YouthSpark Live Vancouver where she is leading several sessions. Sage comments, “This year the event will bring together 100 students from the Vancouver area for a day-long conference focused on three main areas: skills development, coding, and careers in technology. Currently, 50 percent of the job market requires technical skills and it is estimated that that number will increase to 77 percent in the next decade. YouthSpark is really about providing students with resources so they can develop the skills needed for the competitive 21st century workforce.”

Genevieve L’Esperance, a joint major Computer Science and Molecular Biology student at McGill University, will be at YouthSpark Live. She provided these thoughts.  “The message here is simple: it really doesn’t matter if you weren’t an exceptional student. It’s about the desire to learn and the willingness to put in the effort. It is definitely not too late and the opportunity is there. Even if you give programming a chance and find you don’t want to rush home from parties on Friday night (I do this every single weekend), you might find something that sparks another interest. You could be a business architect, data scientist, UI designer, a lab technician, or get access to a hundred other jobs!”

I also reached out to famed scientist, entrepreneur, CIPS founding fellow, past ACM president and fellow Maria Klawe ranked 17th on the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders, and I asked her this question: With your incredible success history of many significant international leadership roles and recognitions, from Harvey Mudd presidency, Microsoft and Broadcom board directorships, and most recently in 2015 the CACSAIC (Canadian Association of Computer Science) Lifetime Achievement Award, if you could sum up your life experiences with career tips for our youth audience at YouthSpark Live and the ICT professional, what would be your tips and the reasons behind them?

Maria shared these great insights:

  • “Learn the creative problem solving approaches of computer science… it will help no matter what career or discipline you end up pursuing.
  • Embrace your inner imposter, but don’t let it keep you from aiming high and persisting. People (like me) who often feel like a failure are often successful because the feeling of failure comes from having high expectations for our performance. Moreover, we all learn more from examining what we see as our failures than our successes. The only downside of ‘imposteritis’ is if it keeps us from taking on challenges and sticking with them until we succeed.
  • Take the time learn something that you are naturally bad at. You learn much better from working on something which is difficult for you.
  • It doesn’t matter how successful you become, there is no excuse for not treating others with respect.
  • Be crazy 20 percent of the time (could be less), but don’t spend all of your time trying to optimize your career or whatever. Take some time to do something that is totally unrelated.
  • Generally it is very important to get feedback from others about what you are doing. You will actually do better hearing from people who don’t like what you are doing than just hearing from people who are your supporters.
  • Don’t polarize or depolarize. Tthe world is not black and white, but many shades of grey and the more people realize that and keep an open mind the better off we will all be.”

These ambassadors for coding gave me one main takeaway: It’s never too late to learn how to code, and doing so opens a door of unique and challenging opportunities. As IT departments often complain about the talent and skills gap, this is an initiative that is worth looking into.

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