Monday, June 22, 2015

Words from the podium

Last month, in this blog entry, I shared news of my upcoming speech to the graduating class of Fanshawe College's IT faculty, part of the Lawrence Kinlin School of Business.

This past Thursday, I was privileged to join an incredible group of dedicated educators, administrators and community members on the stage. With my wife in the audience, I delivered the following talk. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being part of this delightfully surreal and deeply meaningful experience:

Not so long ago, I was just like you. Waiting in a crowd of fellow graduates, ill-fitting cap on my head, itchy gown draped over the rest of me, like the Batman poncho I used to wear on the way to pre-school. Like today, it was a late spring morning, and it was kinda hot in the auditorium. And like today, time moved a bit too slowly for me. I wanted to get there. Now. Throw off my poncho. And get on with it.

As I sat in the sea of almost-graduates, and fought back the heat, humidity and stickiness - and I’ll be brutally honest, some stage fright and nausea - I thought back to my pre-school days in the Batman poncho. As much as I loved Batman - face it, we all did - I could never get rid of that poncho fast enough when I got to my miniature classroom. There were cookies to eat, after all. Juice cups to drink, Lego castles to build. A little life to grow.

As a much older me sat next to my classmates at our graduation ceremony, I remember waiting for my eight-second walk across the stage, trying to not forget to pause somewhere along the way so my parents could take a long distance picture - very blurry, tiny little me, in the middle of a huge stage - as I received a very special piece of paper and prepared for whatever came next.

I remember staring at that piece of paper when I finally got it into my hot little hands. Lovely calligraphy. Impressive-sounding title. A great achievement. I figured that was it. The end. That perfect piece of paper defined who I was, and everything from that point forward would unfold as it should, for a newly minted graduate.

You know where this is going, right?

I don't want to burst your bubble, but nothing ever unfolds as it should.

But that shouldn’t scare you in the least. Because you’re not just graduating from Fanshawe College. You’re graduating as IT professionals ... from Fanshawe College. Not only is this a pretty special college. But the faculty is pretty special, too. So are the administrators and staff who made your journey possible. And as you head off to the big, bright world, you’re going to encounter some pretty special people as well - brilliant, dedicated people who define the profession you’re about to enter.

And as you meet these incredible people, I want you to keep one thing in mind: Technologists don’t define themselves by the jobs they have or the titles they hold. Sure, we all want that elusive job. And as you end one chapter and begin another, some of you already have jobs. Some don’t. Many of you will continue on in school. Others may be wondering what comes next. It’s perfectly OK to wonder. Because life would be boring if we never wondered.

But here’s the thing: What you do next, where you do it, what you’re called….all that won’t matter as much as you think it will.

That’s because Information Technology isn’t like any other sector. In IT, probably more than in any other career path, it’s never been as much about an individual job as it is about what you bring. To a company, to a role, to the people around you.

Technology is literally reshaping the world around us. In less than a generation, the commercial Internet has destroyed old economies and created entirely new ones. It has erased vast distances and accelerated the pace of business to near-light-speed. It has opened up opportunities that couldn’t even be imagined before the era of high-speed broadband and wireless. Virtual businesses started in Mom and Dad’s basement. Or a college dorm. Or a Tim Hortons. Got an idea and some connectivity? Congratulations: The world is now your oyster.

And who's driving that change? All of you. You dream up what comes next. You figure out how it all works, how the complex pieces are supposed to fit together, how the impossible can become not only possible, but mandatory - and all in less time than it took you to finish your final-semester thesis.

You’ve learned a lot of things in your time here, but what I’m hoping you really take away isn’t so much the mechanics of being an IT professional. The world has plenty of that, and Fanshawe has clearly done an amazing job creating an environment where you learned those mechanics.

While you were here, you did far more than attend a bunch of classes, write some exams, go on co-op placements and learn some theory in a textbook. You learned how to apply all that knowledge in a real world that no longer knows how to stand still. You learned how to adapt, how to collaborate, and be greater than the sum of your individual parts. You didn’t simply memorize theory: You learned how to think.

The tech space needs thinkers, doers, dreamers. Starting today, your goal isn’t just to settle for a title and call it a day. Today, you begin to decide what kind of story you’re going to tell, what your contributions to this incredible tech roller coaster ride will be.

Because in the end it’s your story to tell. Your narrative.

You matter more than the place you live, the car your drive, the clothes you wear. Thanks to your time here, you’ve got your hands wrapped around some of the most mind-blowing tools humans have ever created. You have what it takes to change the world around you. You can make technology real to the everyday folks who need to find a better way. What you do is special. Who you are? Special, too. You can indeed change the world, and not to put too much pressure on you, but everyone in this room expects you to.

Technologists don’t just build science-fiction solutions. They ask why. And then they build an answer. And then they help everyone around them squeeze more value and benefit from it. Take the time to appreciate why nerds do what we do. Tech matters. It changes lives. You ... are about to change lives.

You’re about to get your hot little hands on a pretty impressive piece of paper. But your story isn't done. It’s only just beginning. If you do nothing else today, ask yourself what that story will be. And then take that first step, knowing everything you accomplished in this remarkable place, with the help of some remarkable educators and administrators, prepared you for this moment.

Thank you, and congratulations.


sisterAE said...

Nicely done, Carmi. Really.

Gilly said...

Gosh Carmi, that's great! Wish I'd heard that sort of speech when I was graduating!